The following is a typical case illustrating the linkage between child abuse and animal abuse. One morning, an Atlanta contractor pulled up to a house where he was to perform some work. As he got out of his truck, he heard a dog screaming from the house next door, went over to investigate and saw through an open garage door a dog dragging his back legs and a woman standing beside him. The contractor intervened and took the dog to a veterinarian, whose suspicions about the incident were confirmed. The dog could not be saved and an autopsy revealed that the dog was paralyzed from having been beaten so badly. The incident was reported to the police. When the police went to the woman’s house to make an arrest for abusing the dog, they found a badly bruised boy. Both parents were arrested for child abuse.
Companion animals are increasingly viewed as family members with inherent worth. More than 70 per cent of US households with young children have companion animals. In one study, seven-to-ten-year-old children named on average two companion animals each when listing the ten most important individuals in their lives. When asked ‘Whom do you turn to when you are feeling sad, angry, happy or wanting to share a secret?, nearly half of the five-year-old children in another study mentioned their companion animals. Harm to companion animals can cause tremendous grief and anxiety in those who care for them. Unfortunately, their status as family member renders companion animals vulnerable to abuse, often as a means to exert control and intimidation over other humans. For example, an abusive father may hurt the family dog in order to scare his spouse or children into submission. Threats toward and actual abuse of animals in domestic violence situations occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- to confirm power and control over the family;
- to perpetuate an environment of violence and fear;
- to coerce the victim or prevent him or her from leaving;
- to force the victim into silence;
- to punish the victim;
- to further degrade the victim by forcing his or her participation in animal cruelty acts.
In a survey of 107 battered women, 47 per cent of those with companion animals reported that their abusers threatened or harmed the animals. Additionally, more than half of these women said their companion animals were important sources of emotional support and 40 per cent had delayed seeking shelter out of concern for the animals’ welfare. Once in the shelters, many of the women continued to worry about the animals’ safety. That concern is not unfounded. Several cases reveal the horrific cruelty inflicted on animals by batterers: a pet cockatiel was beheaded because he was ‘singing too much,’ a cat was hung by a leash, another cat was put into a microwave and other animals have been kicked, stabbed, shot or thrown. In another study of battered women, 71 per cent of those with animal companions reported that their partners had been violent to the animals. The women reported that their partners abused animals for revenge or to psychologically control them. Quinlisk reported findings of a survey conducted as part of a domestic violence intervention program. Of the 58 female victims of domestic violence who had companion animals, 68 per cent reported violence directed toward their companion animals. In 88 per cent of cases, the violence was committed in their presence. In 76 per cent of these cases, their children also witnessed the animal cruelty. In other cases, women reported receiving threats either to kill or give away the animals.