Startling Facts About Animal Abuse & Domestic Violence

In recent years, researchers have documented a strong connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. Pet abuse is one of four predictors of domestic partner violence.

In both domestic violence and child-abuse situations, abusers may manipulate and control their human victims through threatened or actual violence against family pets.

When victims of domestic violence seek to escape their abusive homes they’re not only faced with the challenge of finding shelter for themselves and their children, but also for their pets.

Why it Matters

  • 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals.
  • 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals. 87% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75% in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them.
  • 13% of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence.
  • Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock should they leave.
  • Pets may suffer unexplained injuries, health problems, permanent disabilities at the hands of abusers, or disappear from home.
  • Abusers kill, harm, or threaten children’s pets to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force them to remain silent about abuse. 
  • Disturbed children kill or harm animals to emulate their parents’ conduct, to prevent the abuser from killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions on another victim.
  • In one study, 70% of animal abusers also had records for other crimes. Domestic violence victims whose animals were abused saw the animal cruelty as one more violent episode in a long history of indiscriminate violence aimed at them and their vulnerability.
  • Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble.
  • For many battered women, pets are sources of comfort providing strong emotional support: 98% of Americans consider pets to be companions or members of the family.

Animal cruelty problems are people problems. When animals are abused, people are at risk.

Understanding the Cycle of Violence

After a violent episode, whether physical, emotional, or sexual, tension builds to a breaking point. The abuser blames the victim and minimizes the violence, then woos the victim back in a honeymoon phase, and the victim hopes the cycle is over. But the cycle repeats itself, almost without fail.

Many victims hope the violence will end or believe they can protect animals in the home. The truth is that a person who harms animals will likely harm humans–and a person who harms humans will almost certainly harm animals. Staying with an abuser puts every human and nonhuman in the home at risk.

Children in violent households, who have likely been abused themselves, represent one-fifth of domestic animal cruelty cases. When a child harms animals it can indicate that serious abuse has been inflicted on the child, consequently, animals are abused in nearly all households in which children have been abused.

Furthermore, children who witness animal abuse are at greater risk of becoming abusers. Many violent offenders committed childhood acts of animal abuse.

Did You Know?

  • More American households have pets than have children. We spend more money on pet food than on baby food. There are more dogs in the U.S. than people in most countries in Europe - and more cats than dogs.
  • A child growing up in the U.S. is more likely to have a pet than a live-at-home father.
  • Pets live most frequently in homes with children: 64.1% of homes with children under age 6, and 74.8% of homes with children over age 6, have pets. The woman is the primary caregiver in 72.8% of pet-owning households.
  • Battered women have been known to live in their cars with their pets for as long as four months until an opening was available at a pet-friendly safe house.

Why Do Abusers Batter Animals?

  • To demonstrate power and control over the family
  • To isolate the victim and children
  • To enforce submission
  • To perpetuate an environment of fear
  • To prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her to return
  • To punish for leaving or showing independence

Can Animal "Neglect" Indicate Abuse Toward People?

Animal abuse in the form of neglect is often one of the first indicators of distress in the household. Whether owing to lack of empathy, mental illness, or substance abuse, a person who fails to provide minimal care for the family pet is more likely to neglect the basic needs of other dependents in the household.

In many cases, children found living among the squalor of neglected pets are taken into foster care.

How Can Stopping Animal Abuse Affect Other Issues?

Reporting, investigating, and prosecuting animal cruelty can help take dangerous criminals off the streets. Police know that in homes where animal abuse is a problem, other issues are often concurrent.

Acts of animal cruelty are linked to a variety of other crimes, including violence against people, property crimes, and drug or disorderly conduct offenses.

Stopping animal abuse in children can help curb violent tendencies before they escalate to include violence against people.

State Animal Cruelty Laws

Anti-cruelty laws exist in all U.S. states and territories to prohibit unnecessary killing, mutilating, torturing, beating, neglecting and abandoning animals, or depriving them of proper food, water or shelter.

Animal cruelty cases may be investigated by a local humane society, SPCA or animal control agency or, in areas where these organizations are not present, by police or sheriff’s departments.
When an investigation uncovers enough evidence to warrant prosecution, charges may be filed by the local district or state’s attorney. Often, only the most serious cases generate sufficient sympathy and evidence to warrant prosecution, and gaining convictions may be very difficult.

If You Need Help

Contact your local humane society, SPCA, animal control agency, or veterinarian to see if they have temporary foster care facilities for pets belonging to battered women. If you are in danger, please contact 911 or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or your local/state 

What You Can Do

  1. Have your pets vaccinated against rabies, and license your pets with your town or county: make sure these registrations are in your name to help prove your ownership.
  2. Consider and plan for the safety and welfare of your animals. Do not leave pets with your abuser or in the residence alone. Be prepared to take your pets with you: many women’s shelters have established “safe haven” foster care programs for the animal victims of domestic violence.
  3. Alternatively, arrange temporary shelter for your pets with a veterinarian, family member, trusted friend, or local animal shelter. ★ See below to locate a local "safe haven" for you and your pet.

US State & Territorial Coalitions

NNEDV represents the 56 U.S. state and territorial coalitions against domestic violence. Domestic violence coalitions serve as state-wide and territory-wide leaders in the efforts to end domestic violence.

These organizations connect local domestic violence service providers and are valuable resources for information about services, programs, legislation and policies that support survivors of domestic violence.

Nationwide Safe Haven Directory  Those fleeing domestic violence may bring pets to these shelters with you.