Since domestic violence is rooted in one person’s need for power and control over another person in a relationship, it’s not surprising that abusive behavior toward animals is often found to go hand in hand with domestic violence. In fact, abuse of family pets can often be a warning sign that family members are either currently domestic violence victims or at high risk of becoming one.
As this close link becomes better known and accepted, law enforcement agencies, agencies working with animal abuse/protection, and agencies working with domestic violence are realizing the benefits of working together to protect both animals and family members from abusive behavior. This is an important step in identifying families needing services, because non-family members, like neighbors and friends, are more likely to report animal abuse to authorities than suspected domestic violence/abuse. In this way, agencies dealing with animal abuse can become a first point of contact with domestic violence victims and the authorities dealing with that side.
Victims of domestic violence, particularly children, may initially talk more freely to authorities about abusive behavior or threats of such behavior toward family pets before feeling comfortable discussing abusive threats or behavior to family members. Further investigation may very well reveal the need for additional services to address domestic violence within the family.
Domestic violence victims may also fear leaving their abuser because domestic violence shelters generally don’t include care arrangements for family pets. No one wants to leave their pet to suffer at the hands of the abuser.
Some domestic violence shelters are adding kennel facilities or partnering with animal foster care agencies to address this need for family pet protection from the abuser. Some states even allow pets to be included in domestic violence injunction orders.
The take-away message here is that information about animal neglect/abuse should never be ignored. To protect both the helpless animal and the likely family member victims from an abusive family member, promptly report your information to animal protection agencies. If you suspect that domestic violence and/or animal abuse is occurring in the family of someone you know, and you aren’t confident in what your next step should be, consult with an experienced family law attorney for assistance in addressing this issue.