Child Protection and The Link

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

Child and animal protection have a common history.

  • The first child abuse cases in the U.S. were prosecuted by humane societies and SPCAs. This dual role continued for many decades.
  • Pets are common denominators in the lives of most children. 2/3 of homes with children under age 6, and 3/4 of homes with children over age 6, have pets. (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2007). More American homes have pets than have children. A child in America may be more likely to grow up with pets than with a live-at-home father. (Melson, 2000)
  • Fairy tales have more animals than fairies. Of the first 50 words toddlers speak, many are  names of animals. 80-90% of children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet. (Melson, 2000)
  • Pets are part of the construct of children’s autobiographical memories. 80% of children’s dreams are about animals. (Jalongo, 2004)
  • Children’s close emotional attachments to their pets, particularly in times of stress or trauma, make the animals convenient targets by abusers seeking power and control and a pawn to instill fear in the child. (Boat, 1995)

Childhood acts of animal cruelty are widely seen as potential precursors to interpersonal violence.

  • Cruelty to animals is one of the earliest symptoms of conduct disorder, showing up at the age of 6-1/2. (Frick et al., 1993)
  • Childhood witnessing of animal cruelty results in significantly more risk of adolescent or adult interpersonal violence. (DeGue & DeLillo, 2009)
  • 43% of school shooters have histories of animal cruelty. (Verlinden et al., 2000)
  • Youths who bully others — and who have been bullied — are at increased risk for committing animal abuse. (Baldry, 2005; Gullone & Robertson, 2008; Henry & Sanders, 2007; Vaughn, Fu et al., 2011)
  • Children who witness or are regularly exposed to acts of violence against pets are traumatized and some may learn to commit animal cruelty themselves. (Currie, 2006)

Animal abuse indicates an increased risk for child maltreatment.

  • 60% of families under investigation for child abuse, and 88% for physical child abuse, reported animal cruelty. 2/3 of these cruelty incidents were perpetrated by the adult male; 1/3 by the children. (DeViney, Dickert & Lockwood, 1983)
  • Animal abuse by children is common, with as many as 44% of children having abused animals at some point during their childhood. Children who abuse animals are 2-3 times more likely to have been abused themselves. (Lee-Kelland & Finlay, 2018)
  • 11% of individuals convicted of having sex with animals had prior convictions for child pornography. In 5% of these arrests, animal pornography had been used to groom a child for sexual behavior. (Edwards, 2019)
  • 82% of animal abusing families were also known by social services (Hutton, 1983)
  • 62-76% of animal abuse in the home occurs in the presence of children, causing emotional distress (Faver & Strand, 2003)
  • Sexually abused children are 5 times more likely to abuse animals (Ascione et al., 2003)
  • 7% of reported animal abuse cases involved child maltreatment. (HSUS, 2001)
  • The toxic environment of narcotics, human trafficking, weapons, gambling, and animals fighting to the death caused the federal government to make it a felony to bring a child to an animal fight.

What You Can Do:

  • Include questions about the presence, welfare, and turnover of pets in crisis lines, intakes, referrals, assessments, home inspections, custody hearings, and treatment plans. Children are more likely to open up about their animals than about themselves. Showing concern for their pets builds rapport and trust and opens a window into the child’s world.
  • Treat childhood exposure to animal abuse as an Adverse Childhood Experience that creates toxic stress, harms the child’s developing brain architecture, desensitizes the child to violence, and leads to long-term hyper-responsiveness to perceived threats and lifelong health concerns.
  • Check for the presence of dangerous and abused animals when conducting home visits.
  • Lobby for state laws to allow therapy dogs to accompany survivors of child sexual abuse in children’s advocacy centers and when testifying in court.
  • Recognize the evidentiary importance of animal cruelty at trial, disposition, and in custody, visitation, removal, and protection order hearings.
  • Establish lines of communication with the animal protection agencies in your community. Our National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies identifies more than 6,500 of these agencies based upon where you are located.
  • Include training about The Link between child and animal abuse in your state training curricula. The National Link Coalition has a speaker’s bureau who can present on this topic.


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