It is easy to lose sight of the broader picture and easy to overlook the fact that animal abuse and domestic violence are closely related; we tend to disassociate the fact the pets are close members of our families and often the most vulnerable. Aggressive and cowardly acts to the most vulnerable individual of the family, whether it is two legged or four legged, is a huge sign of power and control. Killing, harming or threatening to harm beloved pets are weapons used by domestic abusers to manipulate victims into silence. A startling survey revealed that more than 70% of survivors stated that their abuser threatened, killed or injured their pet out of revenge or control.
It is very common for a victim of domestic violence to report that their beloved pet has been hurt or killed by their abuser. Additionally, in many cases victims who are fleeing a domestic violence relationship are forced to stay to protect their pets or must choose between their own safety or their pet’s safety. In a recent study, 34% of women surveyed had delayed leaving. Victims describe being emotionally attached to their pets and the thought of leaving them behind because they couldn’t care for them is unimaginable.
The Animal Welfare Institute, an agency that focuses on advocating and fighting to change policy to protect animals, in a recent study reported that pet abuse was identified as one of the four significant predictors for Intimate Partner Violence. Moreover, the study found that batterers who abuse pets used more forms of violence and demonstrated greater use of controlling behaviors.
And then there are the children. Children will register everything they see and hear and when they witness their pets being hurt it is registered in their delicate brains. More shocking, the behaviors that our children witness and learn from people who hurt pets is more likely to be expressed through their behavior in school and as adolescents and adults. Children learn that it is okay to take out their frustration on those more vulnerable, including their pets.
It is important to understand the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. Some people try to justify or undermine this problem because the victim is only the animal. However, it is important to consider that a person who hurts animals often escalates to hurt people. And children who abuse animals can also escalate to violence against people. Often this is a warning sign that something is going on with the child and in the family dynamic. Other behaviors include aggression and bullying.
No one deserves to be treated badly or physically abused. This includes our pets. How can you help? Talk to your children if they ever hurt an animal or witness someone hurting an animal. Start by telling them that is not okay and that there are healthy options to express complex feelings of depression, anger, and anxiety. If you see others hurting their pets, or just animals in general, you can report the matter to your local animal control or regional animal services. You can also call 911. Likewise, you can help victims of domestic/intimate partner violence by connecting them with agencies who can provide them with safety and support. Your local domestic violence community organization is Tahoe SAFE Alliance. Please be mindful that by doing this, you can be saving a valuable life.