Express-News: Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty
- Express-News coverage in this message:
1. Statistics on abuse victims and pets
2. Interview: connection between domestic violence, animal cruelty
3. Article: Pets can share the impact of domestic violence
4. Article: Legal protection for pets
STATISTICS ON ABUSE VICTIMS AND PETS
Percent of pet owners who consider their animals to be companions:
Percent who say pets are family: 47
Percent who consider them property: 2
Percent of women entering shelters who report incidents of animal
Percent of children reporting animal abuse: 63
Percent of women who delayed going to a shelter out of concern for
their pets: 25 to 40.
Percent of male prison inmates who had violent relationships with
women and who also had hurt or killed pets: 42
Percent of families in which there was child abuse in which
researchers also found animal abuse: 88.
Sources: Humane Society of the United States; Frank A. Ascione;
Randall Lockwood; American Humane Association.
Express-News staff writer Marina Pisano talks with Dr. Frank
Ascione, professor of psychology at Utah State University, a leading
researcher on the connection between domestic violence and animal
Listen to the interview:
Pets can share the impact of domestic violence
Web Posted: 08/24/2006 08:35 PM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
They were both drinking that evening, but by midnight, he was
plastered and abusive, she was sobering up and scared.
"I wanted to go upstairs and get my things and go," Inger recalls
that hot night in June when her boyfriend held her virtual
prisoner. "He screamed at me, 'If you leave, I'll slit your dog's
throat. When you come back, your dog will be dead.' Anybody who
knows me knows my dog, Blackjack, is like my child. I've had him for
five years. He knew that was a way to get to me and make me stay."
Blackjack was shut up in the bedroom, unable to protect her as her
boyfriend dragged her by the hair from the yard into the rental
house, beat her and kicked her in the leg, shoulder and head. Badly
bruised, she was finally able to call police when he left at mid-
morning. Blackjack, a purebred rottweiler, went into an animal
shelter. Inger, an attractive, single 31-year-old, who doesn't want
her last name used, went to the Battered Women's Shelter.
As she explains one day at the women's shelter, pets aren't allowed
there, and she's not sure how long the animal facility can care for
the dog. "But if it comes to that, I'd rather sleep on the street
than give him up."
The plight of helpless pets often comes up in domestic violence,
says Laura Fronzaglio, director of outreach and transitional
services at the 99-bed shelter for battered spouses and their
children. "A lot of times (the person being abused is) isolated from
friends and family, the only relief they have is with their pets.
Pets are the ones who comfort them and listen to them cry. And it's
a natural instinct for pets to be protective. People that don't have
pets say, 'It's just a stupid dog. It's not that important.' But to
her it is. She can't leave her dog."
Abusers quickly learn that threats and violence toward companion
animals serve to intimidate, control and silence not only spouses
and girlfriends like Inger, but elders and children, too.
Researchers say that, in many instances, the same pathology that
results in violence against humans drives cruelty to animals. The
American Humane Association, which focuses on both child and animal
abuse, says a beaten or neglected pet may be a barometer of family
violence. Neighbors might report animal cruelty more readily, and
that crime might be prosecuted more easily than the domestic
"About 70 percent of women seeking shelter report that their pet has
been threatened, injured or killed by their abuser. About half the
animals are actually injured or killed, and that's true in all North
America," says Randall Lockwood, a noted researcher in the field and
the Washington-based senior vice president for anti-cruelty
initiatives and training for the American Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals. "From 25 to 50 percent of women stay in
relationships for years out of fear for what happens to pets that
are left behind."
As Frank R. Ascione, an author and professor of psychology at Utah
State University, recounts in an interview from Melbourne,
Australia, where he is lecturing, "One of the women we interviewed
(for a study) said she came home from work one day, and she found
her dog nailed to her bedroom door. These are not outbursts of
anger. They are very carefully planned attacks meant to terrorize
Often, those fleeing violent situations don't have a friend or
neighbor who can keep their pets, and they can't afford to board
them. Fronzaglio works to find housing for these pets in local
animal shelters or kennels, as she did for Blackjack. The location
is kept secret because batterers have been known to go to kennels
searching for pets. Nationally, a number of animal shelters have
formed safe haven partnerships with domestic violence shelters.
Like other shelters, the 50-bed Crisis Center of Comal County in New
Braunfels has built a small kennel on the property to house pets
brought in by clients. When that fills up, they'll work with local
veterinarians to board animals. "It is very heartbreaking because
pets are victims too," says staff director Daniel Perez. "In some
instances, they (abusers) killed family pets in front of the family,
just to show their level of power and control."
A significant body of research confirms that, as Lockwood describes
it, the human-animal abuse connection is a "tangled web" of
violence. Research shows acts of animal cruelty are a marker in the
profiles of serial killers and violent criminals. And in a study of
male prisoners who had had violent relationships with women,
Ascione, a leading researcher on family violence and animal cruelty,
found that 55 percent reported hurting or killing pets.
Some 25 years ago, researchers found that, in homes where there was
a known history of child abuse, animal abuse occurred at either the
same time or prior to the child abuse in 90 percent of the homes.
Offenders know that threatening or harming a pet is a powerful way
to silence and coerce child victims of sexual abuse. "Animal abuse
really is terrifying to children," Ascione says. "Children identify
very strongly with animals, and to see the animals hurt or killed is
almost like children watching what could happen to them."
As part of this complicated cycle of violence, Lockwood notes that
about one-third of children who are either abused or witness
domestic violence will act out their aggression and exercise their
own cruel power and control on pets.In 1997, the Humane Society of
the United States created its First Strike campaign to raise
awareness about the connection between animal cruelty and human
violence among law enforcement officials, animal cruelty officers,
social workers and other professionals, while pushing for inter-
That effort is familiar to Sallie Scott, animal welfare advocate and
retired director of the Animal Defense League. In the late 1990s,
she helped pull together a Link Committee on the issue in San
Antonio. "I found these agencies - police, animal control officers,
social workers, child protective services, adult protective
services - weren't talking to each other," she recalls. "They were
all going to the same house and not communicating with each other
about what they found. It's important that social workers be cross-
trained to look for animal abuse and animal control officers cross-
trained to look for child abuse and elder abuse."
As Lockwood points out, better awareness, more cooperation among
agencies and stronger laws and punishment for animal cruelty as a
predictor of family violence will "lift all boats."
Meanwhile, a follow-up call to Inger at the shelter finds she is
working, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and visiting
Blackjack, now in foster care. She's saving money to get her own
place, and wants to fund a haven for pets on the grounds of the
Battered Women's Shelter.
"They need a kennel at the facility, so women know that if they want
to get out of a relationship, they don't have to leave their pets
Legal protection for pets
Web Posted: 08/24/2006 08:24 PM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
As the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty becomes
increasingly evident, states are beginning to act. Early this year,
the governor of Maine signed a bill, believed to be the first of its
kind, that specifically allows animals to be included in court
protective orders. Vermont and New York followed with similar
legislation. Measures are being considered in New Jersey and
Such laws build on the status of animals as property, but they also
speak to the special place pets have in American homes as living,
breathing members of the family. "We're dealing with the kind of
property that can suffer and die," says Randall Lockwood of the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Debbie Carter, public policy director for the Texas Council on
Family Violence, doesn't see similar animal protective-order
legislation on the horizon in Texas. In Bexar County, Bettina
Richardson, an assistant district attorney and executive director of
the Family Justice Center, says that, while provisions for pets are
not codified in Texas law, attorneys can make the case for it, and
judges have the ability to include pets in domestic violence
Inger gets a lick from her dog, Blackjack, who will have to go to an
animal shelter soon since the shelter for victims of domestic
violence where Inger lives can't house pets.
Daniel Perez, staff director of the Crisis Center of Comal County,
plays with Bear Brown, a dog being kenneled at the facility in New