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The Connection Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

A woman standing before a window, holding a dog. Her back is to the camera, and both are looking out the window.

A family pet – whether it is a dog, a cat, or even a bird – can be a tremendous source of both love and comfort. In many abusive relationships, the connection between a person and their beloved pet is often used as a way to further control and manipulate them. Too often, people who abuse harm pets as a tactic of domestic violence. Understanding this link is critical to ensuring that victims and survivors of domestic abuse can get the help that they need.

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

At its core, domestic abuse is about gaining and maintaining power and control over another person. When a person who abuses knows that someone or something is important to their victim – whether it be a child, a pet, or even a physical object – they may go after it as a way to hurt their victim, to gain power and control, or to coerce a victim to stay in the relationship.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 71% of pet owners who stay at a domestic violence shelter report that their abuser threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet. A person who abuses may hurt or threaten to hurt pets to assert their dominance or to emotionally blackmail their victims.

There is also a strong connection between animal abuse and violence against humans. In the past, animal cruelty was considered an isolated issue. However, per the FBI, we know that animal abuse is strongly associated with other types of violent offenses. Animal cruelty is a predictor of both current and future violence, including physical assault, sexual violence, murder, arson, sexual abuse of children, and domestic violence.

While many people assume that people start by abusing animals and work their way up to harming humans, in many circumstances, people who abuse start by hurting humans and then progress to hurting animals – often as a way to manipulate, control, and/or punish their victims.

Animal cruelty may be used to:

  • Create fear and control

  • Convince the victim to return to a violent relationship

  • Keep the victim isolated

  • Financially control the victim

  • Coerce the victim into staying

  • Psychologically punish the victim

  • Remind the victim that they can use physical force to maintain power and control

In many cases, the victim may stay in a violent relationship out of concern for their pet’s safety. As many as 1 in 4 survivors report having returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet.

Seeking Help

A man cuddling a cat

As detailed above, concern for pets is a major reason why many people are afraid to leave an abusive relationship. Fortunately, there are ways to seek help while still protecting your pets. Many domestic violence programs have forged relationships with animal welfare groups to find ways to keep survivors and their pets safe. For example, at Blackburn Center, we can provide a safe haven for your pets while you find safety at our emergency shelter.

New legislation pending in the Pennsylvania Senate may also help victims and survivors who are frightened to leave because of threats of animal abuse. Under House Bill 1210, a judge could award a person seeking a protection from abuse order (PFA) temporary ownership of family pets. At the same time, the court could order the defendant to not take or abuse pets, or to enter the property of a person who is in possession of the pets. If it becomes law, House Bill 1210 would be a significant step towards ensuring that those who want to leave an abusive relationship have a way to protect their pets if they choose to do so.

Blackburn Center advocates for the rights of all individuals to live free from all forms of violence – including domestic violence and animal abuse. We offer a range of services to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including those whose pets are also at risk.

Reach out today to learn more about how we can help: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD Available). All calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.


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