Fight Cruelty

Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty

How is Animal Abuse Related to Domestic Violence?
In recent years, researchers have documented a strong connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. 

  • A study from 11 U.S. cities revealed that a history of pet abuse is one of the four most significant indicators of who is at greatest risk of becoming a domestic batterer. 
  • A Texas study found that batterers who also abuse pets are more dangerous and use more violent and controlling behaviors than those who do not harm animals. 
  • Twelve separate studies have reported that between 18 and 48 percent of battered women, and their children, delay leaving abusive situations in fear for what might happen to their animals. 
  • Women who do seek safety at shelters are nearly 11 times more likely to report that their partner has hurt or killed their animals than women who have not experienced domestic abuse. 
  • In Wisconsin, 68 percent of battered women revealed that abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock; more than three-quarters of these cases occurred in the presence of the women and/or children to intimidate and control them. 
  • Children who are exposed to domestic violence were three times more likely to be cruel to animals. 
  • The Chicago Police Department found that approximately 30 percent of individuals arrested for dog fighting and animal abuse had domestic violence charges on their records.

These numbers are too high. There is legitimate evidence that people involved in violent acts against animals present a danger to the public that must be addressed. Intentional animal abuse is often seen in association with other serious crimes including drug offenses, gang activity, weapons violations, sexual assault and domestic violence—and can be one of the most visible parts of an entire history of aggressive or antisocial behavior. These cycles of violence often start with animal abuse—and they must be stopped.

How Is the ASPCA Addressing These Issues? 
The ASPCA has been actively responding to these issues. We are training district attorneys to be more aggressive in prosecuting animal cruelty cases, and veterinarians to use the latest advances in forensics to provide expert testimony in these cases. We are helping to establish animal housing facilities in women's shelters in order to keep all the family members together when leaving abusive situations. We are supporting the National Link Coalition in its efforts to address research, programs and policy in the areas where animal abuse, domestic violence, child maltreatment and elder abuse intersect. And we are helping states enact Pet Protection Order laws which allow judges to include beloved pets in domestic violence protection-from-abuse orders.

Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Why do Abusers Batter Animals?
What Can Law Enforcement Do?
What Can Victim Advocates and Domestic Violence Shelters Do?
What Can Animal Shelters and Humane Organizations Do?
Legal Protections for Animal Victims of Domestic Violence
Conclusion and Additional Resources

Why Do Abusers Batter Animals?

  • To demonstrate power and control over the family
  • To isolate the victim and children
  • To enforce submission
  • To perpetuate an environment of fear
  • To prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her to return
  • To punish for leaving or showing independence

What Can Law Enforcement Do?

It is imperative that first responders understand the connection between animal abuse and family violence. When responding to domestic calls it is imperative to be alert for signs that children and/or pets might be victimized. Children may be more willing to discuss what has happened to a pet than their own victimization.

Victims and their children should be asked:

  • Do you have any pets?
  • Has the batterer or any else threatened to harm your pet?
  • Will you need assistance in finding a safe place for the pet if you leave?

Be sure to document any signs of animal abuse and report it to the appropriate agency empowered to investigate animal cruelty. Many victims will not go forward with the prosecution of their abuser. However, prosecution on animal cruelty charges can result in incarceration or treatment equivalent to what might result from a domestic violence prosecution.

What Can Victim Advocates and Domestic Violence Shelters Do?

  • Work with victims to be sure they include pets in their safety planning
  • Include questions about any threats or injuries to pets on your intake questionnaires
  • Work with legislators to insure that pets can be included in orders of protection and educate judges about the necessity to do so
  • Work with your local humane organizations or animal control to establish programs for the emergency housing of pets coming from homes experiencing violence

What Can Animal Shelters and Humane Organizations Do?

  • Reach out to local domestic violence shelters and establish programs for emergency housing of pets from homes with domestic violence
  • If no space is available, work with animal foster care agencies to establish a network of homes that might provide emergency care for these pets
  • Incorporate information on these connections in school programs, particularly those that might reach children at risk of family violence

Legal Protections for Animal Victims of Domestic Violence

Sadly, victims of domestic violence often remain in dangerous or dysfunctional relationships to protect their pets. A study of women seeking temporary "safe haven" shelter showed that 71 percent of those having companion animals reported that their partners had threatened, hurt, or killed their animals. It is likewise well-documented that many more abuse victims never even go to a shelter because they fear for the safety of the pets they must leave behind.
In recognition of this phenomenon, several states have passed laws that 1) empower judges to include pets in court-issued orders of protection; and/or 2) include the harm or threat of harm to animals in the state's legal definition of "domestic violence."

See which states allow pets to be included in orders of protection and read the individual laws.

Conclusion and Additional Resources

Animal cruelty is increasingly viewed as a serious issue by professionals in law enforcement and mental health—as well as by the general public. The effective prosecution of animal abuse has many benefits. It can provide an early and timely response to those who are, or who are risk of becoming, a threat to the safety of others. It can provide an added tool for the protection of those who are victims of family violence. Finally, it can bring personal satisfaction in developing new skills and new understanding, and helping build a truly compassionate society.

ASPCA Government Relations Department
Email contact: [email protected]

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

Office on Violence Against Women
Email contact: [email protected]