Domestic Violence and The Link

Quick Facts: Why is The Link important for…Domestic Violence?

If he’s hurting animals, the women and children are further victimized.

  • Abusers can exploit the emotional attachments women and children have toward their pets, who become pawns in the dynamic of coercive power and control used to demonstrate force, to create an environment of fear, induce compliance and emotionally abuse their human victims. Over 71% of battered women reported that their batterers had harmed, killed or threatened animals to coerce, control and intimidate them. (Ascione, Weber & Wood, 1997) Other animals are taken away, allowed to escape, or sent to animal shelters to be euthanized as ways to intimidate victims.
  • Batterers sexually abuse animals, threaten children’s pets as a way to get children to do something, or force the child to kill the pet. (Jury, Thorburn & Burry, 2018).
  • While victims frequently excuse their batterers’ actions upon themselves, they may find it harder to ignore acts of violence against animals. (Arkow, 2003)
  • The pets of family and friends who assist in her escape are also harmed by vindictive abusers seeking retaliation and revenge (Roguski, 2012).

Pet owners may have strong emotional ties to their animals that make them additionally vulnerable.

  • 99% of pet owners consider animals to be “companions” or “members of the family.” In the majority of homes, the woman is the caregiver of these animals. (American Veterinary Medical Association 2007)  Abusers exploit these deep emotional attachments as weapons of coercion and control by threatening or harming the pets and warning them that they will be next.
  • For many battered women and their children, pets may be significant sources of emotional and social support and buffers against the aggression swirling around them. (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 2014).

Many women are unable to leave abusive situations out of fear for what will happen to their pets or livestock.

  • Numerous surveys have reported that 25% to 40% of battered women report they delayed their decision to seek safety out of fear for their animals’ welfare. (McIntosh, 2002).
  • 97% of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline said that keeping their pets with them is an important factor in deciding whether to seek shelter. 50% would not consider shelter for themselves if they could not take their pets with them. 91% said their pets emotional support and physical protection are significant in their ability to survive and heal. (Urban Resource Institute & National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021)

Animal abuse is a significant risk factor.

  • A crisis line that identified harm or threats to animals, access to weapons, and suicide threats as key risk factors for domestic violence homicide saw the number of femicides decrease 80% (Boat & Knight, 2000).
  • 41% of intimate partner violence offenders had histories of animal cruelty (Febres et al., 2014)
  • Pet abuse ranks with mental health issues, low education levels and substance abuse as the most predictive risk factors for someone becoming a batterer. (Walton-Moss, Manganello et al., 2005)
  • Batterers who also abuse animals are more dangerous and use more forms of controlling and violent behaviors (Simmons & Lehman, 2007)
  • Domestic violence batterers specifically choose pets as targets because they believe the police don’t care about animal cruelty and they can get away with it. (Roguski, 2012)
  • 76% of domestic violence victims whose partners had histories of pet abuse had been strangled; 26% had been forced to have sex with the suspect and 80% feared that they would be killed by the suspect. When perpetrators of intimate partner violence also have a history of animal abuse, victims wait until after 20 to 50 violent incidents before contacting police (Campbell, Thompson, Harris & Wiehe, 2018).

Domestic violence and animal abuse have significant impacts on children.

  • Between 3.3 and 10 million children each year are exposed to domestic violence, with significant negative effects upon their behavioral, social, emotional and cognitive development. Children in these environments learn that there is no safe place for them, and that the adults cannot protect them or each other. They may develop ambivalent feelings toward the batterer, and take on the responsibility of protecting the adult victim. Their chronic fear often leads to aggression.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence are abused at rates 15 times greater than in non-violent homes. (The David & Lucille Packard Foundation,1999)
  • 87% of animal abuse incidents occurred in the presence of the woman; 75% occurred in the presence of the children. (Quinlisk, 1994)
  • 32% of domestic violence survivors in shelters reported their children had also harmed animals, repeating the intergenerational cycle of violence. (Ascione, 1998)
  • 30% of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported their children had witnessed or been aware of abuse or threats to a pet. (Urban Resource Institute & National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2021)
  • Children’s experiences of pet abuse in homes also marked by domestic violence are multifaceted, potentially traumatic, and involve: animal abuse used to punish or discipline the pet; children intervening to protect the pet during violent episodes; animal abuse committed by a sibling; and animal abuse as a power-and-control tactic against their mother. (McDonald et al., 2015)

Clients may be more willing to talk about animal abuse than other forms of family violence.

  • Victims who are reluctant to discuss their situation with counselors or police, or who make apologies for the perpetrator, may be willing to talk about their pets. You can use this to your advantage by initiating a discussion about the animals in the household, and use this information to uncover patterns of violence and control which can better inform the investigation. Showing interest in the family’s animals is a way to build rapport and a relationship of trust.

 What You Can Do

  • Include pets and livestock in protection-from-abuse orders. 35 states now specifically allow courts to do this.
  • Include provisions for animals when writing safety plans for your clients.
  • Ask about the presence and welfare of pets in your crisis line and intake procedures.
  • Establish cooperative pet foster care programs with area animal shelters, veterinarians and related groups.
  • Make your shelter pet-friendly with SAF-T (Sheltering Animals & Families Together) plans.
  • Lobby for state laws that allow intimidating acts of animal abuse to be prosecuted as both domestic violence and animal cruelty.
  • Work with volunteers from area animal shelters to identify pet-friendly apartments and other rentals to help women keep their pets in transitional housing.
  • Have your clients get all pet-related paperwork in her name to avoid bitter custody disputes. These include vaccination records, veterinary bills, licenses, microchips, receipts from pet supply stores, pedigree papers —
  • Lobby for laws that allow courts to award custody of pets in divorce settlements in the animals’ best interests: Alaska, Illinois, California, and New Hampshire have enacted such laws and several other states have introduced similar bills.
  • Set up lines of communication with the animal cruelty investigators in your area. Our National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies identifies over 6,500 of these agencies based upon where you’re located.
  • Start a community-wide Link coalition to bring various stakeholders together in the common concern of stopping all forms of family violence.
  • The National Link Coalition has a speakers’ bureau of experts who can present on The Link between animal abuse and domestic violence to your staff and at your state training conferences.


References cited above may all be found in the National Link Coalition’s Bibliography.