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Domestic Violence Linked to Animal Cruelty

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 4:15pm

From planning pet-friendly vacations to spending oodles of money on toys and treats, most people consider their pets members of the family. Unfortunately, when it comes to domestic violence, pets are also deemed part of the family unit and forced to suffer in silence at the hands of abusers. Some studies estimate that 88% of companion animals living in households where domestic violence occurs are routinely threatened, harmed or even killed.

In cases of spousal, child or elder abuse, a beloved family pet can become a pawn for an abuser who is willing to injure or kill the animal as a form of revenge, to create isolation, or to intimidate his or her victims. ASPCA Special Agents often witness this trend firsthand. "We see a connection between animal abuse and domestic violence all the time," says Special Investigator Diane DiGiacomo. "For example, we'll go out and investigate a complaint of animal abuse and find that the children have already been removed from the home or that the suspect has a history of spousal abuse."

Studies also show that 50% of domestic violence victims delay seeking help for fear that an abuser will harm a pet. Furthermore, most domestic violence shelters are simply not set up to accommodate companion animals—however, in recent years, animal “safe haven” programs, which provide foster care for pets in domestic violence situations, are becoming more common in cities across the country. And at least 11 states have enacted legislation to allows pets to be included in domestic violence-related orders of protection. This means a court can order an abuser to stay away from an animal or impose other conditions to protect the pet's safety—violations could result in arrest.

To learn more about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty, or to find out how you can lobby for stronger legislation to protect animal victims of domestic violence, visit ASPCA.org. If you or your pet is a victim of a violent crime, please call 911 or your local law enforcement.

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