Animal Abuse is Fairly Common

The Humane Society produced a fact sheet in 2008 with the most common reasons batterers abuse pets.  Some batterers threaten to harm the family pet to exhert control over the spouse, eliminate competition for attention, and many other reasons.  The Humane Society also publishes a helpful planning guide, “Making the Connection: Protecting Your Pet From Domestic Violence”.

Sometimes People Delay Leaving due to Concern About a Pet’s Safety

A 1995 study in Utah by Frank Ascione found that of the 38 women seeking shelter, 57% reported that their abusers had actually killed the animal, and that 18% of the women delayed leaving their abuser because of concern for their pets’ safety.

A 1998 follow up study by Mr. Ascione found that of 101 battered women, 70% said that their abusers had threatened or actually harmed their pets, 54% reported that their abuser actually killed their pets and that 25% delayed leaving their abusers because of concern for their pets’ safety.

What Animal Abuse Can Mean In Domestic Violence Cases

  • Harm to the person - Abusers sometimes threaten harm to a pet to induce a woman to stay, as a means of punishing the victim for leaving, or as a means of coercing the victim to come back.  An abuser may threaten to harm the animal, actually harm the animal, and then warn the victim that she may end up being hurt in the same way.
  • Animal abuse can be an indicator that a victim may be in a lethal situation. An abuser’s actions towards a pet may be a sign for what harm may befall the victim.  If the abuser actually ends the pet’s life, it may signal that the abuser is willing to of inflict severe, and perhaps lethal, harm to the victim.
  • Harm to the Animal - Sometimes overlooked is the animal’s welfare. The abuser’s threats sometimes lead to actual physical harm to the animal.
  • Importance of Companion Animals to Domestic Violence Victims - Some may become especially attached to their pets, especially victims who are isolated from social contact by their abusers.  Pets offer companionship and may also be integral parts of children’s lives.  Pets may also aid in the victim’s long term healing.
  • Impact on the decision to act in self-defense - A victim may more readily react in self-defense if s/he knows that the abuser has the capability of causing similar harm to the victim as was inflicted on a pet.

Talking To a Counselor Or Attorney About Animal Abuse

An advocate should ask whether you have any pets, and if so, whether your abuser has threatened or harmed the pets.  Advocates should also ask whether the pets require emergency shelter if you are planning on leaving your abuser.

Why should you talk about any abuse of your pet?

Good advocates will recognize the link between abuse (or threats of abuse) to a pet and abuse of a human.  It is important to discuss these issues of pet abuse, because usually something can be done to protect your pet and descriptions of threats or actual abuse to a pet will help your advocate understand the “full picture” of your individual situation.

Safety Planning And Your Pet

Walking the dog

A daily walk can be used as a way to look at the layout of your neighborhood and to plan a possible escape route.  A walk can also be used as an excuse to leave the house when you sense that a volatile situation is about to erupt.

Create a Safety Plan that Includes Your Pet

If you are planning on staying:

  • Keep emergency provisions for your pet in case your abuser withholds money.
  • Keep the phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic.
  • Establish ownership of your pet by creating a paper trail (e.g., obtain a license, have veterinarian records put in your name).

If you are planning to leave:

  • Obtain safe emergency shelter for your pet, somewhere that won't be disclosed to your abuser (e.g., veterinarian, friend, family, etc.)
  • Pack a bag for your pet that includes:
    • food
    • medicine
    • documents of ownership (receipts, veterinary records, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
    • lease
    • carrier
    • toys
    • bedding

(If you must leave without your pet, remember to leave enough food, fresh bedding, litter, etc. for your pet.)

If you have left...

  • Keep pets indoors (if possible)
  • Don't let the pet outside alone
  • Pick a safe route and time to walk your pet
  • Don't exercise/walk pet alone
  • Change your veterinarian

Protective Orders and Your Pet

As of October 2011, a judge may order  temporary custody of a pet in a temporary or final protective order. Read the Law: MD Code Family Law §§ 4-505, 4-506


Edited by Laure Ruth

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Is this legal advice?

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