The Link Between Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty

Gabrielle Scibetta

            With families forced to stay home as the pandemic shut down the nation last March, pet sales and adoptions reached new heights. One month into the stay-at-home order, pet sales increased 34% than the year prior (Shelter Animals Count: The National Database). While many have used this unprecedented time to welcome animals into their home, others have resorted to violence – suggesting home may not be the safest place for everyone. Instances of animal cruelty have worsened since the start of the pandemic (News10: Uptick in Animal Cruelty ).  Accordingly, with more people home, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine confirms increased domestic violence, up 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Ore.; and 10% in New York City. ( TIME: Domestic Violence COVID-19).

 For nearly two decades, researchers have remained committed to exploring the link between cruelty to animals and abuse of humans (Animal Legal Defense Fund). A spokesperson with the Finger Lakes SPCA revealed that “domestic abuse cases and animal cruelty cases are on the uptick…for people already in an abusive situation, that anger and angst come out and it has manifested into abuse of the animals.” (News10: Uptick in Animal Cruelty ). “The Link,” as it has been termed, demonstrates that those who neglect a family pet – through lack of empathy, mental illness or substance abuse, or by failing to provide the requisite care – display an increased likelihood of neglecting the basic needs of other household dependents. (Humane Society).

            A 7-year study led by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell deemed pet abuse one of the four indicators of intimate partner violence. (Animal Welfare Institute). Moreover, 85% of women that enter domestic violence shelters report their partner has abused or killed the family pet. (Humane Society). While the initial signs of animal abuse begin as early as childhood, many adults overlook the warnings as an “exploratory age of development.” As such, the problem endures because prompt recognition of the signs is essential to stopping the cycle of violence and preventing harm in the future (National Link Coalition).

(Chart: “Animal abuse is part of an inter-generational cycle of violence” National Link Coalition )

            Since animals cannot speak and are generally confined to the home, it’s more difficult to identify abuse of animals than humans. Some telling signs of animal cruelty include explanations of accidents that don’t fit with the injuries, lack of concern for the animal’s injury, and appearing malnourished. (Animal Law Info). Furthermore, Research has attempted to identify why animal abuse and family violence are linked. Most often, “abusers kill, hurt or threaten animals to exert power over the human victims and to show them what could happen to them” Other reasons include isolation of the victim and children, enforcing submission, perpetuating fear, prevention of leaving, coercing to return, or punishment. (National Link Coalition).

Organizations like the National Link Coalition are dedicated to raising awareness of the link by “encouraging legislators, community agencies, and caring people to take action” to stop the violence (National Link Coalition). Likewise, the Animal Legal Defense Fund advocates for laws that protect animals and punish animal abusers, explaining “both because animals themselves need protection, and because of the link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, violence against animals must be taken seriously under the law.” (Animal Legal Defense Fund). By providing the public with educational resources on the link, others can recognize the signs and help stop the cycle of violence.

Over the years, remarkable legal advancements have been made, with all 50 states establishing felony punishments for animal cruelty. On December 20, 2018, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was signed into law which “establishes a grant program for entities that provide shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors to enable them to better meet the housing needs of survivors with pets.” By offering a financial incentive to shelters that meet the requirements, countless domestic violence survivors and their pet companions can find safety and get the help and services that they need. (Pet and Women Safety Act ). Now, more than 900 women’s shelters have implemented “Safe Havens” programs that provide shelter to pets of domestic violence victims to keep them out of harm’s way. (Safe Havens Mapping Project).

Correspondingly, 10 states have taken a step in the right direction by enacting statutes that recognize forms of animal abuse as domestic violence.  (National Link Coalition). States will continue to progress as District attorneys’ offices are launching specialized units focused on crimes against animals. There are currently 13 units around the United States, with New York at the forefront introducing units in five counties: Albany, Erie, Nassau, Queens, and Staten Island. (Law Enforcement Agencies Ramp Up Efforts to Address Animal Cruelty ).Understanding the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence has allowed federal and state action to recognize the dangers that victims face and implement action to end the violence.  When people and pets can seek safety from their abusers, thousands of lives are saved.

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