For many of us here in America, our pets are like members of the family. Having a hard day? Let’s be real, how can you see a fuzzy face and not smile? Feeling stressed? Just google “funny animals” and enjoy the antics that many amused pet owners have captured.
Animals are often the ones who bring us joy and laugher when we need it-they make us smile with their crazy antics. They are a tremendous support to us emotionally and provide companionship when we are feeling alone. Ask most pet owners to tell you about their animal and just watch the smile sweep across their face as they indulge you in answering your question, perhaps offering to show you pictures of their pet on their phone. However, speak with a survivor of domestic or sexual violence here at Umbrella and you may see a different reaction when speaking about pets. Often our survivors will tell you about their animals, but they will do so with fear in their eyes or tears on their faces.
Over the past few years that I have worked at Umbrella I have seen a rise in the number of cases in which the survivor has not only endured violence from their abuser but also witnessed horrific acts of violence against their pet. We know that abusers of animals are five times as likely to abuse a person then someone who does not abuse animals. A brief overview of the grim statistics point that a large majority (most say around 70-80%) of households where a partner or a child has been abused, animals are also abused. In addition to having a firearm in the home, strangling their partner or abusing their child, abusing an animal is one of the indicators potential lethality for the survivor.
So why animals? We know that the goal of people who abuse is to gain power and control. “One study found that 87% of batterer-perpetrated incidents of pet abuse are committed in the presence of their partners for the purpose of revenge or control” Animal abuse in the context of intimate partner violence is less about simply abusing an animal and more about gaining power and control over the person who loves the animal. A survivor of violence is less likely to leave a situation if they know an animal will be harmed if they leave. Additionally, some survivors may stay because envisioning life without their beloved pet is unimaginable. Another reasons why survivors may stay because of an animal is if a survivors resource to income is based in livestock (ex: cattle, goats etc.). If a survivor dependent on an animal for income they may feel financially bound to stay with their abuser.
Children are often caught in the midst of an abuser who uses animals as a weapon against them. Often people who sexually abuse children will threaten their pets or some might actually harm a beloved pet if the child discloses their abuse. Children find themselves silenced in an effort to preserve their beloved animal’s life or wellbeing.
Additionally, a parent who abuses another parent may blame the non-offending parent for the harm they caused to the animal or tell the child that it is their fault that an animal is abused. A lot of damage is done to a child when they grow up in a home with animal abuse. Not only may they suffer emotional wounds, they may be more likely to repeat the cycle of animal abuse and/or family violence.
What can be done?
First, it is important that if you know someone who is being abused to (if it is safe to) offer help and support. Perhaps if you know that the survivor is worried about leaving their pet and you are able to provide temporary shelter for their beloved pet-you may give them an opportunity to leave while knowing their animal is in a safe place.
Also, if you know that animal abuse is occurring, you can choose to report it. It’s important to consider if that may put the survivor at risk. If you are able to report animal abuse safely, in Caledonia County you can contact the Caledonia County Sheriff’s department at (802)748-6666 and in Essex and Orleans County you can contact P.E.T.S. of the Kingdom at (802)673-3791.
Education is another key to stopping animal abuse. It is important for schools and positive adults to educate children and youth that animal abuse is wrong. When growing up in a home where a parent and an animal is abused some children may think it is normal. Having education may give a child the opportunity to learn that abuse of any kind is wrong!
Stepping up to end violence against animals starts small. When the smallest of creatures are viewed with worth, I believe our world can begin to change.
If you’re interested in this topic and you would like to learn more about the link between domestic violence, animal abuse, elder abuse and child abuse I recommend checking out the website, The National Link Coalition. This website is very informative and has a lot of resources!