With a majority of American homes — especially those with children — having pets, and with 99% of Americans considering pets as close companions and family members, pets easily become pawns in the power-and-control mechanisms of domestic violence. Perpetrators of intimate partner violence quickly learn that acts or threats of harm to animals can manipulate, intimidate and retaliate against human family members whose behavior is seen as unsatisfactory. Survivors bonds and emotional attachments with their animals become points of vulnerability used as weapons against them.
In fear for what might happen should they try to escape, vulnerable animals and people are kept trapped in a landscape of terror. Children become desensitized to an abusive family environment where violence is considered normal. Batterers become jealous when they see their partners caring more for their animals than for them. Batterers perpetuate an environment of fear and terror. Animal abuse becomes a form of emotional blackmail. The cycles of violence are inter-generational, and they continue on and on. All vulnerable members of the family — both the two-legged and the four-legged ones — are at risk.
Research has found:
- 97% of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline said that keeping their pets with them is an important factor in deciding whether or not to seek shelter, and 91% said their pets’ emotional support and physical protection are significant in their ability so survive and heal. 50% would not leave if they couldn’t take their pets with them. 48% feared their abuser would kill or harm their pets. 30% said their children had witnessed or been aware of abuse or threats to pets. 76% reported notable changes in their pets’ behavior as a result of the abuse.
- as many as 71% of survivors say their pets were abused or threatened
- as many as 32% say their children also abused animals
- a history of animal abuse is one of the four greatest risk factors for someone becoming a domestic violence batterer
- as many as 48% of battered women report that fear of what would happen to their pets or livestock prevented them from leaving sooner
- batterers who abuse pets are more dangerous and use more controlling behaviors than domestic violence batterers who do not.
In response, many community and public policy initiatives have been developed, including:
- “Pet Protection Order” statutes in 36 states now specifically allow courts to include pets and livestock in protection-from-abuse orders.
- Laws in 10 states define acts of animal abuse intended to intimidate or control a family member as domestic violence.
- Hundreds of “Safe Haven” foster care programs with local animal care facilities for families in shelters. Click here for a directory of these programs.
- Over 250 SAF-T™ — Sheltering Animals and Families Together — programs exist in domestic violence shelters with on-site housing for pets to keep the family intact.
- Many domestic violence programs include pets in safety planning materials.
- Therapy dogs visit domestic violence survivors in police stations and women’s shelters.