The Link - Animal Abuse, Child Abuse, and Domestic Violence

Animal welfare, law enforcement, domestic violence and child welfare agencies are working together more and more in recognition of "the Link", the indisputable tie between animal abuse and violence towards people, particularly within the family. Researchers have recognized and documented that violence towards animals can be both a component and a symptom of child, spousal and elder abuse1,2,3. For example, in a landmark 1983 study, Deviney et al2 studied 53 families who met the legal criteria for child abuse and neglect. 60% of these families abused or neglected companion animals. In 88% of the families where there was physical abuse of the children, there was animal abuse. In a Canadian study, 56% of pet-owning women seeking refuge in women’s shelters reported that their abuser had threatened or had harmed their pet. Of those women with children and pets, 65% believed the children were aware of the abuse, and impacted by it. This study, and others from the domestic violence field, consistently show that women delay leaving abusive situations because of fears for a pet's safety. Many women’s shelters have arrangements with local animal shelters or veterinary hospitals to provide temporary housing for their pets.

Violence towards family pets is one way that abusers exert power and control over their other victims, who may be children, spouse, or elders.

  • Threatening or hurting the pet may be used as a warning. “Next time it could be you.”
  • Threats may be used as leverage. Fear for the pet keeps family members (spouse, child or elder) from disclosing the abuse and exposing the abuser.
  • Forcing the victim to witness cruelty to their pet is emotional abuse.
  • Children who hurt animals may be acting out of their own experience, ie: what they observe, or what they undergo themselves, at home.

For more information on the Link, see Understanding the links; child abuse, animal abuse and domestic violence.

  1. Ascione FR. Battered women’s reports of their partners’ and their children’s cruelty to animals. In: Lockwood R, Ascione FR, editors. Cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, 1998:290-304.
  2. DeViney E, Dickert J, Lockwood R. The care of pets within child abusing families. In: Lockwood R, Ascione FR, editors. Cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, 1998:305-313.
  3. Jorgenson S, Maloney L. Animal abuse and the victims of domestic violence. In: Ascione FR, Arkow P, editors. Child abuse, domestic violence, and animal abuse. Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, 1999: 143-158