A 2012 report by the Alberta SPCA highlights additional difficulties faced by victims of domestic violence when animals are involved. The report, Inside the Cruelty Connection: The Role of Animals in Decision-Making by Domestic Violence Victims in Rural Alberta, documents a study conducted throughout the province.
One of the study’s key findings is that more than half of abused women who have animals reported that they delayed leaving the relationship due to concern for their animals. Other findings:
- 59% of abused women with animals were afraid to seek help out of concern for their animals.
- 36% of abused women with animals reported that their abuser threatened or harmed their animals.
- 85% of threats against animals were carried out.
- In cases that involved children as well as threatened animals, 85% of women reported that the children witnessed the threat or harm to the animal.
- In half of those cases, it was the child’s own pet.
Deliberate cruelty to animals is a form of violence. Besides being harmful to a living creature capable of suffering and feeling pain, intentional animal cruelty can be one of the earliest and most dramatic predictors that an individual is developing a pattern of seeking power and control by inflicting suffering on others. It can also be an indicator of other kinds of violence being perpetrated on family members or others.
The Alberta SPCA has joined with numerous other agencies in both animal welfare and human services to operate a Pet Safekeeping Program. The program provides temporary foster care for the pets of victims of domestic violence who have to leave their abusive situations.
If you have cause to believe there is animal abuse occurring in your community, you should report it to the appropriate SPCA or humane society for your area. Discuss your concerns and observations—the staff who take the calls share your concern and will help to identify the nature of the situation and the appropriate response. Your call will be treated in confidence, though your name and contact information will need to be taken in case further information is needed. On rare occasions (if cases go to court) you may need to provide written or verbal testimony.
Power & Control Tactics:
Using Animal Cruelty as Part of Domestic Violence
Intimidation: Harming or killing a pet and threatening the same thing will happen to you if you don’t comply with the abuser’s demands.
Emotional Abuse: Calling your pet names (your stupid, ugly dog is useless). Giving away or killing a pet to take away your primary source of comfort and unconditional love.
Isolation: Refusing to allow you to take your pet to your preferred vet. Prohibiting you from socializing your dog with other dogs.
Minimizing, Denying & Blaming: Blaming you or your pet for cruelty. Killing a pet and then saying it doesn’t matter because the pet was old.
Using Children: Harming or killing the children’s pet in order to intimidate them or blaming the “disappearance” of the family pet on you in order to create a wedge between you and your children.
Legal Abuse: Trying to take control of a pet for which you have been primary caretaker, or filing charges of pet theft against you if you leave with the pet.
Coercion & Threats: Threatening to harm or kill your pet if you leave or assert any independence.