The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate at AWARE, and trusty four-legged sidekick Marley

Many of you who are reading this are well aware that domestic violence has a significant impact on the physical and psychological well-being and healthy development of children, even if the children are not the direct victims of that violence.  In this post, I’d like to turn your attention to another resident of the home who experiences the same negative impacts of domestic violence, but may not always be viewed as a victim of domestic violence.

The Connection

From hermit crabs to horses, domestic violence can have a profound impact on our pets.  Many people consider their pets to be a part of the family and that makes violence directed or threatened at our pets all the more serious.  The National LINK Coalition works to educate people on the connection between human and animal violence.   They see animal abuse and neglect as the tip of the iceberg in domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse situations.  In other words, animal abuse is generally a warning sign that the perpetrator is capable of other forms of violence if he or she is not already committing other forms of violence.  The National LINK Coalition suggests that anyone who works in people’s homes should be trained in how to identify cases of potential animal abuse or neglect and how to report those cases.

Animal Abuse Through a DV Lens

            Perpetrators of animal abuse use a variety of tactics to maintain power and control over the animal and, directly or indirectly, over members of the family.  These tactics can include being emotionally abusive to the animal, threatening to harm or kill the animal, denying the animal of adequate nourishment and veterinary care, blaming the abuse on another member of the family, and threatening to harm or kill the animal to prevent a family member from leaving or seeking help.  For those of you familiar with the Power & Control wheel that would like a visual interpretation of this, I was able to find this Using Animal Cruelty as a Part of Domestic Violence variation on the Power & Control wheel at the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence website.  The effects of animal abuse, besides the obvious physical and psychological harm to the animal, can also desensitize children and other people who witness it to the effects of violence and can create a lack of empathy for victims of violence.  Children who abuse animals can even be showing the early signs of conduct disorder, according to the National LINK Coalition and the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force.

The Good News!

            While much of this information is tough to talk about, there is currently a lot of movement in many states to pass legislation that would offer increased protection to victims of domestic violence and their pets when obtaining relief from abuse orders and when fleeing a violent relationship.  You can check out all the bills that are currently in legislation, including a federal bill, in the National LINK Coalition’s April LINK-Letter.  The LINK-Letter also has news stories about multi-agency efforts to increase reporting of animal abuse and domestic violence all over the country.

What We Can Do

If you suspect animal abuse or neglect in Vermont, you can contact the Vermont Humane Federation or the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force.  The Vermont Humane Federation has an online reporting feature and they also have a list of reporting agencies by region if you prefer to report by phone.  The Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force has a very user-friendly and attention-grabbing link right on their home page to report animal abuse or neglect.  It’s also important (and awesome!) to note that some domestic and sexual violence agencies, like Vermont’s own Clarina Howard Nichols Center, even allow pets in their shelter.  They were the first in the state to do this and you can read more about the specifics on their website by clicking on the hyperlink above.  Thanks for taking the time to read this article and please remember that nobody and no animal ever deserves to be abused.