The Link Between Family Violence and Animal Abuse
Animal abuse, cruelty and neglect are often considered isolated incidents wholly separated from other forms of family violence. Today, professionals involved with victims of family violence are not surprised when they learn that often these acts are linked, and that various agencies are working with the same families. They no longer excuse animal cruelty as “boys will be boys” or “it was only a cat.” Instead, they see animal abuse as a sentinel indicator, “the tip of the iceberg” and often the first sign of other family and community violence. Intentional abuse in any form should be taken seriously. Knowing that there is a Link, agencies involved in preventing family violence need to work together for a more effective, species-spanning response.
How are they linked?
Domestic violence and child abusers may kill, harm or threaten animals to exert dominance and power over their victims and to show them what could happen to them. In this way, animal abuse silences domestic violence and sexual abuse victims, is a serious risk to pets, and is a significant barrier that prevents them from leaving violent relationships.
When children are cruel to animals it is not necessarily an exploratory stage of development; it could be the earliest stages of conduct disorder, a gang initiation ritual, an act of revenge, peer pressure, or a way for an abused child who feels powerless to exert control over his or her own victim and gain a sense of power. Exposing children to animal cruelty may desensitize them against all forms of violence.
Senior citizens in particular may be at risk of not being able to care for their animals adequately, of neglecting themselves in order to care for their pets, of being exploited by those who would take advantage of their attachment to pets, or of keeping too many animals in inhumane hoarding conditions.