Domestic violence—the words bring images of blackened eyes, swollen shut; cuts and bruises; broken bones; and bashed in teeth. Those images usually are on the faces of women (although men can be the recipient of such abuse as well). But, we don’t think about those same images when it comes to the family dog, cat, or hamster. Yet, animal abuse is often prevalent in homes where domestic violence occurs.
The abuser often threatens the most innocent victims of the household—the family pet—in order to control, coerce, and intimidate the abused. Fear of seeing an innocent animal harmed may keep the abused in the relationship, especially since the animal may be the only friend the abused has.
The abused may delay seeking shelter if it means leaving pets with the abuser. Those who live in rural communities often have large animals who are at risk, which makes leaving all the more difficult as there are few safe havens for farm animals. If the abused attempts to stand up for herself, the abuser may retaliate against the animals in the household as a way to let the abused know, this can happen to you if you’re not careful.
Children often witness these threats and the ensuing abuse. What does that do to them? Some children will try to stop the abuser from hurting the pet. Such intervention can be dangerous to the child as the abuser may move from abusing the pet to abusing the child. Other times, the child sees the abuse as normal and may replicate it, becoming an animal abuser as he or she grows up. The child may grow to be a bully since the child has learned the behavior from the abuser.
Having safe havens for the humans living in abusive relationships is essential to breaking the cycle of violence and in giving the abused a chance at a new start in life. We need safe havens for animals living in domestically abusive environments as well. Some communities place animals with veterinarians, shelters, or designated foster care providers. Some actually give the animals to prison inmates to care for until the abused can set up a household where the animals can live safely. But first, animals have to be protected and that requires judges to include them in orders of protection. When you think about…some of these animals may be the abused person’s only reason for living, the only living, breathing, sentient being with whom they have an emotional attachment. Therefore, these animals need to be protected, too.