The Link between Animal Violence and Domestic Abuse

There is a very strong correlation between cases of domestic abuse and violence or threats of violence towards a victim's pet. Becoming aware of this link and its implications will help people stop potential abusers before anyone gets hurt. When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may not be safe. In addition, children who witness animal abuse are at a greater risk of becoming abusers themselves.

A survey of pet-owning families with substantiated child abuse and neglect found that animals were abused in 88 percent of homes where child physical abuse was present. A study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their companion animals, and 32 percent of mothers reported that their children had hurt or killed their pets. Still another study showed that violent offenders incarcerated in a maximum-security prison were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets.

  • 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals. 
  • 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals. 87% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75% in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them. 
  • 13% of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence.
  • Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock should they leave. 
  • Pets may suffer unexplained injuries, health problems, permanent disabilities at the hands of abusers, or disappear from home. 
  • Abusers kill, harm, or threaten children’s pets to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force them to remain silent about abuse. Disturbed children kill or harm animals to emulate their parents’ conduct, to prevent the abuser from killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions on another victim. 
  • In one study, 70% of animal abusers also had records for other crimes. Domestic violence victims whose animals were abused saw the animal cruelty as one more violent episode in a long history of indiscriminate violence aimed at them and their vulnerability. 
  • Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble. 
  • For many battered women, pets are sources of comfort providing strong emotional support: 98% of Americans consider pets to be companions or members of the family. 
  • Animal cruelty problems are people problems. When animals are abused, people are at risk. 
  • Battered women have been known to live in their cars with their pets for as long as four months until an opening was available at a pet-friendly safe house.

What Advocates Can Do For Battered Women With Pets

  • Add questions about the presence of pets and their welfare to shelter intake questionnaires and risk assessments.
  • Work with animal shelters, veterinarians, and rescue groups to establish “safe haven” foster care programs for the animal victims of domestic violence; some women’s shelters are building kennels at their facilities.
  • Include provisions for pets in safety planning strategies.
  • Help your clients to prove ownership of their animals.
  • Help victims to retrieve animals left behind.
  • Include animals in abuse prevention orders.
  • Help victims find pet-friendly transitional and permanent housing.
  • When victims can no longer care for their pets, make referrals to animal adoption agencies.
  • Establish community coalitions against family violence that include humane societies, SPCAs, animal control agencies, and veterinarians. Invite representatives from these agencies to train your staff on how animal abuse cases are investigated and prosecuted: offer to train their staffs and volunteers about domestic violence issues.