Suppose you’re counseling a young girl and she mentions that her father kicks her dog when he’s mad. It was not made as an isolated statement, but more as a part of the discussion of life in her house. As a counselor, what comes to mind? Do you address it? Let it go? If we probe just a little, chances are, someone else in the house is being battered as well. Studies indicate that 88% of families who have been reported for child abuse also had an animal abuser in the house.
Questioning allegations of animal abuse in the home is a necessary step in the counseling process; recognizing that animal abuse and child / spousal abuse are closely related. Domestic antagonizers abuse animals as a way to emotionally control or coerce their victims. In a survey of 50 shelters on the subject of women and children escaping from in-home abuse, 85% said that women in their shelter talked about abuse of their pets and 83% of the shelters had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse. Further reports indicated that 70% to 75% of women who reported abuse reported that their pets were hurt or killed by their partner.. In most cases, shelters do not allow women to bring their pets with them which results in them delaying refuge out of concern for their pets.
The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported on a case recently where the violence committed against the family cat led to his conviction for sexual abuse. A 9 year old girl was being sexually abused by her stepfather. He made her swear not to tell and threatened to harm her or her mother if she told. The case made it to trial and the prosecuting attorney asked if anyone else knew about her abuse. The little girl said that there was someone else, but he couldn’t talk. She was referring to her black and white cat, Oreo. She added that Oreo would lie outside her door at night and when her attacker approached, he hissed. In a protective manner, Oreo sat, attempting to block and intimidate the attacker who would brutally kick Oreo away from the door. This gave the prosecutor an idea. She had Oreo examined by a veterinarian and sure enough, Oreo had multiple injuries resulting from her consistent physical abuse. The prosecutor submitted the veterinarian’s report to the jury as evidence showing a pattern of violence in the home and the little girl’s allegations gained credibility. Because of this evidence, the stepfather was convicted and received a long prison sentence.
Too often, it is the family pet who has to take on the pain of an angry or jealous husband or heartless father or a mother as in the recent case who punished her son for his "bad" report card by forcing him to kill his hamster with a hammer. It is not a far stretch for one who hurts a beloved pet to harm a human.
. The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence: A National Survey of Shelters for Women Who Are Battered" By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Claudia V. Weber, M.S., and David S. Wood, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Society and Animals, 5(3): 205-218. 1997.
Amy Johnson is a counselor, lecturer, founder, and program director of the non-profit organization, Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together.