Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence – A Correlated Generalized Deviance

April 15, 2016  

I believe it is safe to say that a majority of defendants charged in our courts with animal abuse have prior domestic violence convictions as well. It is because of the “generalized deviance” that domestic violence and animal abuse are correlated. Anti-social behavior of different levels can happen in one individual but how that individual came to exercise the deviance is more complicated as there are many pathways that lead to it. An example of one of these exercises is the individuals use of violence or other anti-social manipulations to “solve” problems which is called “modeling” and explains why violence is often intergenerational. Although animal abuse and domestic violence are correlated, it varies as to which occurs first.

But are there any numbers we can connect here; any studies conducted to make this deviance a little more tangible? A study done in New Jersey found that in 88% of households where children were physically abused, there were records of animal abuse as well. In Wisconsin, four out of five battered women cases revealed the partner had been violent toward pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a study of abuse victims after arriving at domestic violence shelters and found that 85.4% of women and 63.0% of children reported incidents of pet abuse. The Chicago Police Department’s Domestic Violence Program compiled a history of arrestees for animal fighting/animal abuse for the period of 2000-2001 and found that approximately 30% had a conviction of domestic violence on their record. Animal abuse is often associated with other serious crimes such as drug offenses, gangs, weapons violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence and the individuals committing these acts of violence against animals are viewed as a danger to the public and therefore, must be addressed. The whole premise of an animal abuser is to demonstrate power. The abuser will batter an animal to hold control over his family, to isolate them and enforce submission. He will abuse a pet to perpetuate a fearful environment; to prevent a victim from leaving or coerce them to return. They will batter an animal to punish a victim for showing independence.

First responders and professionals who investigate abuse should be aware and trained to observe the cycle of violence. Some states practice this observance and take it a step further by implementing cross-reporting laws. When an animal control officer is called to investigate animal abuse in a home with children, they are mandated to report child abuse when animal abuse is confirmed. Children are generally more willing to discuss what happened to a pet than they are to their own victimization. In Ohio, any child under the age of 18 years of age who commits cruelty to a pet, is required to undergo psychological evaluation to determine individual or family counseling as necessary. The legislation also permit’s the court to include a protection order for any companion animal in the home of the person seeking a criminal protection order, domestic violence protection order, a civil stalking order, a sexual offense protection order, or the approval of a civil domestic violence consent agreement. Often a partner will abuse a pet that is in the home as a tactic to keep the victim under control. It is understood that many victims will not leave when it puts their pets in harm’s way. When questioning victims and their children, first responders should be alert for signs of child and/or pet victimization. They should ask if the abuser or anyone else threatened to harm their pet and ask if they need help finding a safe place for their pet to go if they leave. Many victims will not prosecute their abuser however, animal cruelty prosecution can result in incarceration or treatment that is equal to results from a domestic violence prosecution.

Domestic Violence Shelters, Animal Shelters, and Humane Organizations can do much to offer protection for animal victims. When working with abuse victims in their safety planning, be sure they include their pets. Question them about any threats or injuries to their pets. Work with legislators to include pets in orders of protection and educate judges on the necessities of these inclusions. Team up with your local animal control and humane organizations and local domestic violence shelters to establish emergency housing of pets coming from homes experiencing violence. If there is no space available, establish a network of homes that provide emergency care for these pets through foster care agencies then incorporate these connections in school programs where they might reach children who are at risk of family violence. Also, many YWCA’s have pet shelter programs that are in partnership with the humane society, local clinics, kennels, stables, and veterinarians.

Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence often choose to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets. A study shows that 71% of women seeking “safe haven” in domestic violence shelters had companion animals threatened, hurt, or killed by their abuser. Many victims never even go to a shelter because of this fear for their pets. It is in recognition of this fact that many states have passed laws including pets in court-issued orders of protection and to include any animal that is harmed or threatened with harm in the state’s definition of “domestic violence.” Society doesn’t consider animal cruelty as severe as violence against humans but it is increasingly viewed as a serious issue by professionals in law enforcement and mental health. Effective prosecution of animal abuse can provide early and timely response to those who are, or who are at risk of becoming, a threat to the safety of others. It is a tool for protection for victims of family violence, developing new skills and understanding which will help build a truly compassionate society.