Animal cruelty may occur in association with various forms of interpersonal violence including child abuse, abuse of at-risk adults, criminal assaults between strangers and acquaintances, and domestic violence (often referred to as intimate partner violence). The potential for animal maltreatment to serve as a sentinel for interpersonal violence supports the importance of community vigilance to accurately identify if and when acts of animal maltreatment call for an exploration of an individual’s risk to family and the community.
- Animal cruelty may occur as a prelude to violence towards other humans.
- Acts of physical violence and sexual violence involving animals are not always defined by a familial or intimate relationship.
- Violent individuals emotionally and psychologically abuse their victims by exerting “power and control” over others through harming animals.
- The human-animal bond is exploited by individuals that use the victim’s relationship with their animals to coerce, threaten or intimidate human victims into unwanted acts and/or silence.
- Studies have suggested that animal cruelty is often used to intimidate or coerce victims into dropping legal charges or returning to abusive homes.
- Acts of animal cruelty may be committed by abusers to get revenge against their human victims.
- Animal maltreatment is often used to send a message to the victim that they are vulnerable to similar, if not worse, acts of violence.
- A large percentage of victims of intimate partner violence report that their companion animals have been threatened or harmed by their violent partner.
- Many battered individuals refuse to leave violent situations due to concern for leaving their animals behind with their violent partner.
- Children witnessing acts of callousness and violence toward animals often suffer emotional and psychological trauma.
- Some child witnesses of domestic violence learn to cope through perpetration of violence on animals.
- Children may mimic or learn callous and abusive behaviors toward animals from abusive adults.
- Criminal activities involving animals (such as illegal animal fighting) often result in violence between third parties.
Selected Research Findings
Tiplady, Walsh, & Phillips (2012, Australia)
- 100% of respondents in an intimate partner violence study indicated their companion animal had been verbally or physically assaulted by their partner.
- 92% of the respondents indicated they were unwilling to discuss this with the animal’s veterinarian.
- 25% of respondents indicated that their animals died as a result of the abuse.
- In 33% of the cases, the respondents were told by the violent partner that if they left, their companion animal would be harmed or killed.
- 60% of individuals who witnessed or perpetrated animal abuse also experienced other forms of family violence.
Ascione, Weber, Thompson, Heath, Maruyama, & Hayashi (2007)
- Women in domestic violence shelters are 11 times more likely to report animal abuse by their partner than women not experiencing violence.
- In homes where domestic violence is present, between 25% and 75% of the animals have either been abused or threatened with abuse.
- Children exposed to domestic violence were nearly three times more likely to exhibit cruelty toward animals than children who had no prior history of witnessing domestic violence.
Kogan, McConnell, Schoenfeld-Tacher, & Jansen-Lock (2004)
- 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.
Faver & Strand (2003) | Interviews with women with companion animals from six different domestic violence programs
- 48.8% of the victims reported that the batterers made threats to harm pets.
- 46.3% reported that the pet had actually be harmed or killed.
- 26.8% of these women reported that these pets affected their decision to enter the shelter.
- A detailed qualitative study with sheltered women found evidence that the threat of animal cruelty was often used to intimidate and coerce domestic violence victims into dropping legal charges or returning to their abusive home.
Ascione (1998) | A sample of women interviewed while staying in a domestic violence shelter
- The threat of abuse and/or actual abuse occurred in 71% of the women with pets.
- 57% of pet owners in the survey reported their partner had hurt or killed one of their pets.
- 32% of sheltered women reported at least one of their children had killed or harmed a pet or other animal.
- 18% reported that concern for their pets’ welfare had delayed their entering the shelter.
- The link between domestic violence and animal abuse is not just present in heterosexual couples. In a sample of battered lesbians, 38% of respondents reported the occurrence of pet abuse.
Implications for Families, Communities and Professionals Working with Victims or Potential Victims of Interpersonal Violence
- The presence of animal maltreatment is a potential sentinel for interpersonal violence.
- Link informed communities and individuals are more able to identify and intervene effectively with both interpersonal violence and animal maltreatment.
- Link informed animal control, law enforcement and first responders investigating animal maltreatment play a pivotal role in the early identification of and intervention in human violence.
- Violence toward partners, children and animals often is not separate and distinct in the cycle of violence.
- Effective and informed cross-reporting improves human welfare, animal welfare and public safety.
- Victims of interpersonal violence with access to safe care and shelter for their animals are more likely to leave violent situations.
- Earlier interventions with child witnesses, victims and perpetrators of violence can reduce future violence toward people and animals.
- Risk assessment that includes accurate information about animal maltreatment offers a more comprehensive and clear picture of past, present and future behaviors.