Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

In recent years, a strong correlation has linked animal abuse to domestic abuse. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states that in Wisconsin, battered women revealed that in four out of five cases, abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock. The Humane Society of the United States “First Strike” campaign reports that a history of animal abuse was reported in 25 percent of aggressive male criminals, 30 percent of convicted child molesters, 36 percent of those who assaulted women and 46 percent of those convicted of sexual homicide.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) Public Policy Office collects statistics on pets and domestic violence. Here are striking facts of why animal abuse should be taken seriously:

• 71 percent of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured, or killed family pets.

• 85 percent of domestic violence shelters report that they commonly encounter women who speak about pet abuse incidents.

• 52 percent of victims in shelters left their pets with their batterers.

• Criminals and troubled youth have high rates of animal cruelty during their childhood; perpetrators often were victims of child abuse themselves.

• Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family experiencing domestic abuse.

When thinking about animal abuse, not only is there a fear for the animal’s safety, but it can also be a barrier to domestic violence victims seeking services. NCADV reports that up to 40 percent of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusers because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. Not a small thing for 98 percent of American pet owners who consider their pet not only a companion, but a member of their family (

NCADV also explains how one study found that 87 percent of batterer-perpetrated incidents of pet abuse are committed in the presence of their partners for the purpose of revenge or control. Batterers also threaten, harm, or kill their children’s pets in order to coerce them into sexual abuse or force them to remain silent about abuse. Investigative Sergeant Connie Schuster from the Door County Sheriff’s Department stated they often see this power and control used over victims: “We see abusers who will make a threat towards the pet, and use that as leverage to get what they want from the victim.”

Why should we care about the pets?

While most Americans identify pets as a family member, 55 percent of domestic violence victims and their children report that their pets are a very important source of emotional support, thus violence towards pets may be especially devastating and viewed as another form of family violence (NCADV fact sheet “Pets and Domestic Violence).

The Door County Humane Society (DCHS) sees an unfortunate number of abused and neglected animals come into our community’s shelter. Executive Director Carrie Counihan commented that “people are always surprised that, yes, animal abuse takes place in our community every day. Even in our small town.”

Animal abuse presents itself in a variety of ways at DCHS including animals being tied outdoors without food, water or shelter, animals being abandoned on the sides of roads, animals being treated violently, or through the threat to “shoot a dog or cat” rather than continue to provide necessary care. Counihan stresses the importance of considering turning your pet over to the Door County Humane Society for care if the responsibility of caring for it becomes too much.

Understanding why any type of abuse happens is not easy. To better understand types of abuse, power and control, how to create a safety plan for you or your pet, or how you can get help with an abusive situation, please contact: HELP of Door County, Inc. at 920.743.8818, or the Sexual Assault Resource Center at 920.746.8996. For info on pets or animal abuse, please call the Door County Humane Society at 920.746.1111.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.