Silent Victims of Family Abuse: The Role of Pets in Violence

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An argument, a slammed door, a shove, a punch. Physical pain, emotional agony, endless fear. A bruised spouse, a terrified child, a trembling dog. Who will be the next victim of this violent rampage? History shows that where there is family violence, there is often also child abuse and, much less recognized, animal abuse.

The Cycle of Violence

Because pets are easy targets without a voice, they are often victims of abuse in a violent home. Studies have shown that approximately 88% of families who abuse their children have also abused their pets.

Pets are injured when they are caught in the crossfire of a violent dispute, or when an aggressor is looking for a vulnerable, quiet victim.

Pets are also injured or killed as punishment to a child or spouse for something that angered the abuser. Threats of animal abuse are made to keep the family silent about what goes on inside the home.

Children of abusive parents have violent tendencies. Because of the emotional turmoil of their home life, children may take out frustrations on a pet. There have even been cases of children killing their pets to save them from the abuse of the violent parent.

The Red Flag of Animal Abuse

Animal abuse is often a stepping stone to violence toward people. Studies show that those who were cruel toward animals as children are drastically more likely to commit violent crimes toward people.

Not only does animal abuse sound an alarm regarding a child's violent tendencies, an abused pet should also be a red flag for child and domestic abuse. In a home where pets are mistreated, there are often people who are being physically and emotionally harmed.

Any time there is a pet being abused, not only should the welfare of that animal be considered, there should also be great concern for the safety of the family associated with that pet.

The Fear of Leaving

There are many reasons victims of violence are afraid to leave the abuser. Fear of being caught leaving, financial instability, not knowing where to go, and emotional connection to the abuser.
For those who have a pet who is also being abused, some do not know where to take the pet and are afraid to leave him behind with the abuser. Some abusers actively threaten to harm the pet if the victim leaves. The need to stay and protect the pet may prevent a victim of violence from fleeing the situation.

Cases of violence toward a pet send a message to the victim: "If you leave, I will kill you."

Some of the documented cases include a man throwing his girlfriend's seven week old kitten against the wall during an argument. The kitten suffered severe head trauma and was euthanized.

A client brought her old dog to a veterinarian for euthanasia. The client returned days later with two black eyes and a Pomeranian with broken legs. Upon questioning, the vet learned the woman's spouse forced her to euthanize the old dog and had broken the Pomeranian's legs as a punishment.

Also as punishment, a man killed his children's pet fish, one by one, in front of the family.

After witnessing situations such as these, it is understandable that a victim would fear the consequences of leaving. "What will happen to me if I leave? Will my pets survive?"

Refuge for Abused Pets

Some veterinarians and animal protection societies who have witnessed the connection between family violence and pets have established refuge for the animal victims. Local humane society programs, vet clinics, and other organizations will provide boarding or foster care to these pets while the owner establishes a safe life.

The Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org) has developed a campaign called First Strike to raise awareness about the affect of family violence on pets. This campaign is working with communities to provide more refuge to these pets.

If you are affected by domestic violence and you know a pet in need, contact your police department, veterinarian, local women's shelter, or humane society for information on refuge for your pet. There IS someone out there who will provide your pet with a safe home as long as he needs it.

Do Not Hesitate to Help

If you witness abuse to a pet, do NOT hesitate to contact the police and humane society. Doing so may be the heroic move that saves animal and human lives, convicts and helps the abuser, and gives a voice to a pet in need.

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