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The Connection Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

 In Abusive Behaviors, Domestic Violence Awareness, Family Violence, Pet Abuse
The Friendship Between Man and Wolf

Native Americans have a long history of living harmoniously with the animal kingdom and sharing a special bond with the wolf, the largest member of the canine family. This bond came with many benefits in the northern territories. Instinctually, man and wolf are duly respected by the animal kingdom as skilled hunters and loyal members of a complex family unit. Over time, the two species could lean on each other for companionship. 

Targeting the Family Pet

Today, the wolf has metaphorically changed into many domesticated breeds of the canine family and coexist solely for man’s enjoyment. Yet, pets are often used as a target in a home experiencing domestic violence. In fact, studies confirmed that domestic abuse and pet abuse are so intimately linked, where one exists the other can be predictably assumed. 

Intimate partner violence or domestic violence is a unique form of abuse against one’s intimate partner. It is marked by a pattern of coercive behaviors by one partner to get and keep power and control over their intimate partner. Abusive partners will use many varying tactics to get power, and often that includes pet abuse. They might abuse the pet to punish the victim, to force the victim to do what the abuser says, coerce them to do something or to intimidate the victim. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 4,774,000 women in the United States experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner every year1 with a vast majority of them reporting that a pet was also harmed. In fact, in one study, a whopping 85 percent of women residing in domestic violence shelters reported that a pet was harmed by their abuser.2 It’s an effective tactic of coercive, emotional and psychological abuse when cruelty and violence toward household pets function as a method of intimidation, control and retaliation.  

A Reason to Stay

68 percent of all US households—82.5 million homes—include a companion animal.3 These companion animals become members of the family and for the most part live happy and healthy lives. However, when domestic violence is an issue, the family pet will sometimes try to protect the victim, but they will inevitably become a target. Since there are very few resources for victims with pets, caring for a pet is a diabolical means for the perpetrator to maintain control and prevent the victim from leaving. 

Researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of the families who were under supervision for physical abuse of their children and up to 66 percent of domestic violence victims reportedly stay in abusive situations out of fear for their pets’ safety. In an ethnically diverse study of 103 women, pet-owning intimate partner violence survivors there were five themes identified:

  • animal abuse as a tactic of coercive power and control, 
  • discipline or punishment of pet, 
  • animal abuse by children, 
  • emotional and psychological impact of exposure to animal abuse and 
  • pets as an obstacle to effective safety planning. 

To put a stop to domestic violence and pet abuse, the Pets and Women’s Safety (PAWS) Act was introduced to Congress in 2015 as H.R. 1258 and S.B. 1559. The PAWS Act would give victims of domestic violence means to escape their abusers while keeping their companion animals safe. On December 20, 2018, the provisions of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act were signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The PAWS Act establishes a grant program for entities that provide shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors to enable them to better meet the housing needs of survivors with pets. The new law also takes the important step of including pets, service and emotional support animals, and horses in federal law pertaining to interstate stalking, protection order violations, and restitution. These provisions provide law enforcement with additional tools for protecting victims from their abusers. 3

StrongHearts Can Help

If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence, StrongHearts can help. Call StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-877-7NATIVE (1-877-762-8483) daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST.

  1. Animal cruelty facts and stats. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/animal-cruelty-facts-and-stats
  2. A Template Analysis of Intimate Partner Violence Survivors’ Experiences of Animal Maltreatment: Implications for Safety Planning and Intervention (Ascione et al., 2007; Onyskiw, 2007; Volant, Johnson, Gullone, & Coleman, 2008).
  3. Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act https://awionline.org/content/pet-and-women-safety-paws-act
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