Facts and Myths About Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

In the last twenty years, researchers and advocates have learned a lot about how pet abuse and domestic violence are related, and how important this relationship is for early identification of both human and animal victims of abuse. Over time, some information may have become distorted or oversimplified. The following are some of the most common “facts and myths” about domestic violence and animal abuse. The information below was compiled from studies that were published in peer-reviewed professional journals or books. A general reference list is available upon request.

FACT: Domestic violence, child abuse, and animal abuse frequently occur simultaneously in a family.

Multiple studies have found that from 49% to 71% of battered women reported that their pets had been threatened, harmed, and or killed by their partners.

In a national survey, 85% of domestic violence shelters indicated that women coming to their facilities told of incidents of pet abuse.

According to a survey, women in domestic violence shelters were 11 times more likely to report animal abuse by their partners than was a comparison group of women not experiencing violence.

A study of 1,283 female pet owners seeking refuge found batterers who abuse pets also used more forms of violence and demonstrated greater use of controlling behaviors.

FACT: Women with pets may delay leaving a dangerous environment for fear of their pets’ safety.

Across various surveys, between 18% and 48% of battered women delay leaving a dangerous situation out of concern for their pets’ safety.

FACT: Individuals who commit pet abuse are more likely to become batterers.

Pet abuse was identified as one of the four significant predictors for intimate partner violence in a recent “gold standard” study conducted by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell and colleagues in three metropolitan areas over a period of seven years.

A more thorough understanding of the connection between animal abuse and the likelihood of becoming a batterer would better enable us to intervene at one of the earliest possible points and to stop battering before it begins.

MYTH: When animal abuse occurs, it proves that there is an escalation of violence.

This feels intuitively correct, and while there is no research to confirm it, we do know that individuals who abuse pets are prone to committing domestic violence and that committing animal abuse strongly indicates who will begin battering. We also know that if pet abuse occurs, domestic violence either is likely to occur, or is already occurring, and law enforcement, social service agencies, veterinarians, shelters, and others who come in contact with domestic violence and animal abuse should be aware of and alert to the possibility that other crimes are present.

FACT: Animal abuse often is linked to the severity of IPV.

Studies  have found a significant association between physical and severe psychological IPV perpetration and a history of animal abuse, as well as an association between pet abuse and controlling behaviors in violent relationships.

MYTH: Animals abusers represent a distinct type of offender.

We do not know if this is the case since the studies needed to make this assertion have not been done. We do know, however, that animal abusers frequently commit other types of interpersonal violence (IPV). With that information, we can reasonably assume that the personality characteristics of animal abuse offenders will resemble those of other IPV offenders.

To assess the level of dangerousness, there are instruments with known reliability and validity that have been used for years by departments of probation and corrections, forensic mental health experts, domestic violence advocates, and others. These instruments could be used with scientific confidence for assessing how dangerous, or psychopathic, an animal abuse offender may be.

MYTH: A safe haven for pets of domestic violence victims is always a place where the pets of domestic violence victims are sheltered in the same area as the family.

Safe havens come in many different shapes and sizes. In some safe havens, pets do share the same space with the domestic violence survivors. For a list of these types of programs, and information on starting one, go to: http://alliephillips.com/saf-tprogram/

However, there are a variety of ways in which safe havens have organized themselves, depending on the local resources. Some rely on networks of foster care homes or are allowed to use the additional kennel space of a local humane society. Some shelters or humane societies house the pets of domestic violence victims offsite. Often veterinarians are involved. A recent survey of safe havens indicated that a sizeable portion (25%) of safe havens reported some formal relationship with a veterinarian or veterinary association.

Depending on the local arrangement, family members may be able to visit their pets while they are in safe-keeping. How long a pet may stay in a safe haven again will depend on the local arrangement—some stays are much shorter than others. Confidentiality of the pet’s location is highly guarded in order to protect the pets and their family members.

For a national listing of all types of safe havens for pets services, see: http://awionline.org/content/safe-havens-mapping-project-pets-domestic-violence-victims

FACT: Safe havens for pets—offering assistance either with direct service or information to survivors of domestic violence about housing their pets safely—have grown nationally.

Currently there are approximately 1,400 safe havens for pets nationally. See http://awionline.org/safe-havens


For additional information or for a list of references, please contact Mary Lou Randour, Ph.D. at (202) 446-2127 or marylou@awionline.org.