Animal abuse and domestic violence often happen together. Victims of domestic violence form deep attachments to their pets that give them comfort and affection. Abusive partners exploit this bond to emotionally abuse their victims, and may threaten or commit violence against a pet to control their victims. This reinforces the abuser’s perception of themselves as dominant in the family.
Sometimes victims who cannot find a safe place for their pet delay leaving an abusive relationship because they are fearful of what might happen to the pet. A number of women in shelters said that their concern for their pets’ welfare actually delayed their leaving the home environment to seek shelter. Abusers use the threat of violence against pets to coerce their victims to return or to punish them if they leave. Some abusers force their victims to participate in the animal abuse in order to emotionally abuse and degrade them.
In the United States and Canada, between 70 and 85 percent of female victims of domestic violence who left their abusers reported violence against their pets. Moreover, children witness violence against pets in one-third to two-thirds of these cases. This is particularly disturbing because the abuse of animals in childhood indicates an increased likelihood of interpersonal violence in adulthood. The abuse desensitizes the child and reduces his capacity to empathize with others. “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it,” said anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Child abuse and animal cruelty are also linked. An abusive parent may kill or injure a pet to punish a child or to ensure the child’s silence about physical or sexual abuse. Victims of child abuse may themselves injure their pets in order to rehearse their own suicide, to “protect” the pet from parental torture, or because they identify with and imitate their abuser.
In recent years, a strong connection has been found linking animal abuse and domestic violence. According to one source, “[O]ver the past 30 years, researchers and professionals in a variety of human services and animal welfare disciplines have established significant correlations between animal abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse and other forms of violence. Mistreating animals is no longer seen as an isolated incident that can be ignored: it is often an indicator or predictor crime and a “red flag” warning sign that other family members in the household may not be safe.”