Adult Protection and The Link

Quick Facts: Why is The Link important for…Adult Protective Services?

Adult protection services workers see multiple forms of family violence and neglect.

  • More than one-third of APS caseworkers reported that their clients’ pets are threatened, injured, killed, or denied care. 75% reported that their clients’ concerns for their pets affected their decisions to accept interventions or other services. (Boat & Knight, 2000)
  • Memory loss, economic constraints, transportation issues, and physical limitations may cause elder owners to neglect their pets’ food, water, shelter, or veterinary care.
  • In one study, 92% of adult protective services caseworkers reported they encountered animal neglect co-existing with their clients’ inability to care for themselves. (Humane Society of the U.S. & State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, 2003)

Cases involving animals may be difficult to resolve.

  • Adult protective services caseworkers or homemakers may feel threatened or overwhelmed by animals on the premises and may need assistance from animal protection organizations. Interventions involving animals may require creative solutions. Pre-establishing lines of communications with animal care and control organizations can resolve these issues more expeditiously. (Arkow, 2003)

Pet owners may have strong emotional ties to their animals, which can make them vulnerable.

  • Elderly pet owners may have long-standing and deep emotional ties to their animal companions: they may defer entering nursing homes until their animals pass away, or refrain from obtaining new pets out of fear of developing new attachments, economic and health considerations, or because they fear the animals will outlive them.
  • Only 1% of pet owners consider their animals as “property”: 99% consider their animals as “companions” or “members of the family.” (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2012)
  • Seniors are vulnerable to those who would exploit this bond to exert power and control, financial exploitation, or to retaliate. Perpetrators may manipulate this bond to intimidate or coerce victims; they may threaten to abuse or get rid of the pet.

Some seniors go to extremes with these emotional ties and become “hoarders” or “collectors.”

  • The stereotypical hoarder who collects an unhealthy number of animals is an elderly, often socially isolated person who may care for as many as hundreds of pets in inhospitable living conditions.
  • In some cases, the animals may be well-fed but the hoarder is malnourished. Elders may neglect their own care in lieu of their pets’ care. Seniors may spend money on pet food or veterinary bills while not providing for their own needs. There are anecdotal reports of seniors subsisting on diets of animal food. (Humane Society of the U.S. & State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, 2003)
  • These persons may need psychological counseling and social services interventions, which to date have not proven to be effective. (Patronek, 2004)

Animal welfare organizations are often first responders and the first point of social services intervention.

  • Because abused and neglected animals may be outdoors in plain sight, neighbors may report suspected animal maltreatment to SPCAs, humane societies and animal control officers: these personnel may be the first community service agency on the scene and often encounter elder abuse and animal hoarding situations.
  • Establishing lines of communication, cross-training programs, and referral protocols with these agencies can uncover cases of elder abuse that would otherwise go unreported. (Arkow, 2003)

Participating in Link programs can build awareness of adult protection issues.

  • Establishing cross-training and cross-reporting protocols expands the community of caregivers who are familiar with adult protective organizations and who can generate more community support for elder abuse prevention. (Arkow, 2003)

Clients may be more willing to talk about animal abuse or neglect than their own abuse.

  • Victims and witnesses of elder abuse may be reluctant to discuss their situation with strangers or government officials. Because people enjoy talking about their pets, you can use this to your advantage as an icebreaker to initiate discussions about the animals in the household. This information may uncover patterns of violence and control which can better inform the investigation.
  • Showing interest in the client’s animals is a way to develop a relationship of trust and start a conversation. (Arkow, 2003)

What You Can Do:

  • Advocate for state laws to mandate cross-reporting between humane and animal control agencies and adult protective services.
  • Include questions about the presence, turnover, and status of animals in crisis lines, intakes, assessments, and intervention plans.
  • Recognize that for some clients their pets may be their primary source of emotional support and opportunity for physical exercise and engagement with the community.
  • Partner with animal protection agencies to identify pet-friendly apartments in your community to assist pet-owning elders who need to relocate into subsidized or less-expensive housing.
  • Observe clients’ interactions with animals, and look out for safety, risk of falling, health, and other animal-related issues when conducting home assessments.
  • Encourage clients with pets to have back-up care for their pets if they need to go into hospital or long-term healthcare.
  • Alert veterinarians to be wary of clients who request to have all their pets euthanized: this is a warning sign for suicide.
  • Set up lines of communication in advance with the agencies in your community that investigate animal welfare complaints. Our National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies lists over 6,500 of these organizations based upon where you are located.
  • Identify animal support services in your area that offer low-cost spaying and neutering and veterinary care, pet food banks, volunteer opportunities, pet transportation, foster care, pet loss support lines, and adoption services.
  • Include The Link between animal and elder abuse in your training curricula. The National Link Coalition has a speaker’s bureau of experts who can provide training to your staff and at state conferences.


References for the above citations can be found in the National Link Coalition’s Bibliography.