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Pets in danger: Exploring the link between domestic violence and animal abuse

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Abstract

Previous research has found that domestic violence (DV) victims who seek refuge in DV shelters often report the abuse of companion animals as a form of psychological control. However, these studies have mainly involved the use of interviews and questionnaires which restrict the quality and depth of data collected (e.g. these methods increase the probability that victims will withhold information due to embarrassment or ethical constraints). The current study utilized a novel method previously overlooked in the literature on companion animal abuse in an attempt to overcome these problems; domestic violence victims' stories of companion animal abuse were obtained from online forums where victims voluntarily shared their experiences. Seventy-four stories were analyzed using thematic analysis and four key themes were identified: The Victim-Companion Animal Bond; Companion Animals Used to Control Victims; Victims' Perceptions of Abusers' Behavior; and Support for Victims and Companion Animals. A number of DV victims reported that companion animals were one of their main sources of support, and many chose to stay in an abusive relationship because DV shelters did not have the facilities to house their pets. Findings have policy implications for police, DV shelters, child protection organizations, and animal welfare organizations.
This paper should be cited as:
Newberry, M. (2017). Pets in danger: Exploring the link between domestic violence and animal
abuse. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 273-281. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2016.11.007
© Elsevier. Not to be reproduced or distributed without the publisher’s permission.
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Pets in Danger: Exploring the Link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse
Michelle Newberry
Sheffield Hallam University
Contact details: Dr Michelle Newberry, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, Department of
Psychology, Sociology and Politics, Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield,
South Yorkshire, S10 2BP, UK. E-mail: m.newberry@shu.ac.uk
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Pets in Danger: Exploring the Link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse
ABSTRACT
Previous research has found that domestic violence (DV) victims who seek refuge in DV shelters
often report the abuse of companion animals as a form of psychological control. However, these
studies have mainly involved the use of interviews and questionnaires which restrict the quality and
depth of data collected (e.g. these methods increase the probability that victims will withhold
information due to embarrassment or ethical constraints). The current study utilized a novel method
previously overlooked in the literature on companion animal abuse in an attempt to overcome these
problems; domestic violence victims’ stories of companion animal abuse were obtained from online
forums where victims voluntarily shared their experiences. Seventy-four stories were analyzed using
thematic analysis and four key themes were identified: The Victim-Companion Animal Bond;
Companion Animals Used to Control Victims; Victims' Perceptions of Abusers' Behavior; and Support
for Victims and Companion Animals. A number of DV victims reported that companion animals were
one of their main sources of support, and many chose to stay in an abusive relationship because DV
shelters did not have the facilities to house their pets. Findings have policy implications for police,
DV shelters, child protection organizations, and animal welfare organizations.
Keywords: Domestic violence (DV); Intimate partner violence (IPV); Child protection organizations;
Companion animals; Animal cruelty; Animal abuse
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Pets in Danger: Exploring the Link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse
1. INTRODUCTION
1.1. The link between domestic violence and companion animal abuse
A growing body of literature indicates that domestic violence (DV) is related to companion animal
abuse (e.g. Ascione, 1998; Ascione, Weber, Thompson, Heath, Maruyama & Hayashi, 2007; Boat,
2014; Carlisle-Frank, Frank & Nielsen, 2004; Faver & Strand, 2003; Flynn, 2000a, 2000b, 2009;
Hardesty, Khaw, Ridgway, Weber & Miles, 2013; Hartman, Hageman, Williams & Ascione, 2015;
Hartman, Hageman, Williams, Mary & Ascione, 2016; Jorgenson & Maloney, 1999; Knight, Ellis &
Simmons, 2014; McDonald, Collins, Nicotera, Hageman, Ascione, Williams, & Graham-Bermann,
2015; McDonald, Graham-Bermann, Maternick, Ascione & Williams, 2016; McPhedran, 2009;
Tiplady, Walsh & Phillips, 2012; Volant. Johnson, Gullone & Coleman, 2008). Most research in this
area has involved interviewing and/or administering questionnaires to victims in DV shelters to
determine the prevalence of companion animal abuse, and a number of studies have reported that
approximately half of DV victims have witnessed threats toward, or the actual abuse of a companion
animal. Carlisle-Frank et al. (2004) found that companion animal abuse was reported by 53% of DV
victims in shelters in New York, and Allen, Gallagher and Jones (2006) reported that 57% of 23
women in DV shelters in Ireland had witnessed the abuse of a companion animal. In another study,
Ascione et al. (2007) found that 54% of 101 DV victims interviewed in shelters in Utah reported that
their partner had harmed or killed a companion animal, compared to 5% of a control group of non-DV
victims. Similarly, Volant et al. (2008) interviewed 102 DV victims in Australia and found that 52.9%
reported the abuse of a companion animal, compared to 0% of a control group of 102 non-DV
victims. In a later study which interviewed 19 women in DV shelters in Illinois, Hardesty et al. (2013)
found that 47% of victims reported the abuse of a companion animal at the hands of a controlling
partner. More recently, Hartman et al. (2015) found that 11.7% of 291 victims residing in DV shelters
or receiving non-residential services from a DV agency in the US had witnessed threats toward a
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companion animal, and that 26.1% had witnessed the actual harm of an animal. However, as the
authors note, these findings represent a lower rate of companion animal abuse than found in other
studies that have not included a large proportion of Hispanic participants. Faver and Strand (2007)
also reported a lower prevalence rate of companion animal abuse among Hispanic DV victims (36%),
and Simmons and Lehmann (2007) reported a prevalence rate of 25% among DV victims in Texas,
although they did not state whether this lower rate was attributable to the inclusion of Hispanic
participants.
1.2. How companion animals are abused by domestic violence perpetrators
Research has found that the abuse of companion animals is a coercive tactic used by DV perpetrators
to control their partners (Allen et al., 2006; Faver & Strand, 2007; Flynn 2000b; McDonald et al.,
2015). Allen et al. (2006) asked DV victims to ascribe motivations for their partners’ abuse of
companion animals, and found that of the 13 women who reported such abuse, 92% believed that pets
were abused to control them or their children (the remaining participant did not respond to the
question). Consistent with other research on motivations for abuse (e.g. Arkow, 1995; Ascione, 1999),
most women ascribed more than one motivation for its onset, including anger and revenge, or revenge
and punishment. In their study which interviewed children about experiences of companion animal
abuse in domestically violent homes, McDonald et al. (2015) found that many children believed that
threats and harm directed at pets aimed to create and maintain fear in the home, isolate the mother,
and prevent or punish the mother’s attempts to be independent or leave the relationship. Many
participants also reported that companion animals were maltreated as a form of punishment for
undesirable behaviors, and that their siblings (as well as a parent) had engaged in animal abuse. This
latter finding is consistent with suggestions that generalized physical violence may occur in some
homes, where lines are blurred between victims and perpetrators (DeGue & DiLillo, 2009). Other
research has found that DV perpetrators can threaten companion animals to coerce their partners into
committing illegal acts (Loring & Bolden-Hines, 2004), and that animal abuse can be used to control
and intimidate children to ensure that they remain quiet about the abuse they have witnessed (Adams,
1998; Becker & French, 2004).
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1.3. The effects of companion animal abuse on human victims of domestic violence
Many DV victims report strong emotional bonds with their companion animals, often describing them
as family members (Ascione et al., 2007; Flynn; 2000b; Lacroix, 1998; Risley-Curtiss et al., 2006).
DV perpetrators can exploit this bond to emotionally harm human victims, or use these methods to
coerce them to return to the relationship (Upadhya, 2013). In addition to adult victims of DV, children
also often witness companion animal abuse (Allen et al., 2006; Baldry, 2003; Browne, Hensley, &
McGuffee, 2016; Flynn, 2000b; Henry, 2004; McDonald et al., 2015; Miller & Knutson, 1997;
Thompson & Gullone, 2006), and children who witness such abuse exhibit more emotional and
behavioral problems compared to other children (Girardi & Pozzulo, 2015; McDonald, Graham-
Bermann, Maternick, Ascione, & Williams, 2016). Furthermore, witnessing abuse can desensitize a
child to violence (Ascione, 1993), and lead them to engage in similar behaviors toward animals or
humans (Fantuzzo et al., 1991; Franklin & Kercher, 2012; Levitt, Hoffer, & Loper, 2016).
1.4. The current study
Whilst the aforementioned studies have furthered our understanding about the prevalence of
companion animal abuse and DV victims’ experiences of animal abuse, questionnaire-based studies in
this area are limited in terms of how much in-depth data they can provide about what appears to be a
complex web of abusive behavior. Interview-based studies also have their drawbacks. For example,
interviewees may experience feelings of shame and embarrassment, or be susceptible to social
desirability effects. In addition, interviews may deter victims from truthfully sharing their experiences
once they are aware that researchers have a duty to disclose certain information to the authorities
(such as expressions of self-harm/intention to harm another person, and information pertaining to a
child at risk of abuse). Another limitation of research which directly accesses DV victims is that it
may typically capture more serious incidents of DV/animal abuse which may limit our understanding
of the full spectrum of these behaviors (e.g. shelters may house victims who have experienced more
prolonged and/or serious abuse). Furthermore, the use of participant inclusion criteria limits the
collection of data from the outset in some studies. For example, in recent research (Hartman et al.,
2015; Hartman et al., 2016), adult victims were only eligible to be interviewed if they had experienced
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DV within the past 12 months, had a companion animal living with them within this timeframe, and
had at least one child aged 7-12 years living in the home. It therefore cannot be determined how far
their findings extend to individuals who have experienced DV (or had a companion animal) at a point
further in the past, as well as victims without children in this age group (or who do not have children
living with them). Finally, because studies in this area have tended to utilize small samples in specific
regions (e.g. Hardesty et al., 2013 who interviewed 19 DV victims in Illinois), findings may not be
generalizable.
The current study sought to address these limitations by qualitatively analyzing stories of companion
animal abuse posted voluntarily by DV victims in online discussion forums. This method bypasses the
problems associated with interviewing victims noted above, and increases the likelihood that the data
collected will be more wide-ranging and generalizable to victims of DV worldwide. Given that some
victims do not recognize or define their relationships as abusive (Barnett, 2001), or have concerns
about the reactions of others when disclosing experiences of DV (Edwards et al., 2012; Mahlstedt &
Keeny, 1993; Sylaska & Edwards, 2014), online forums may provide an important platform where
victims are encouraged to discuss their own, perhaps less serious, experiences of abuse. Specifically,
the current study sought to explore DV victims’ freely discussed experiences of companion animal
abuse, including how pets are maltreated, the circumstances in which victims experience the abuse of
their pets (e.g. during certain times of the day or after engaging in certain behaviors), how victims
explain abusers’ behaviour (i.e. their perceptions of perpetrators’ motivations for animal abuse),
whether certain patterns of behavior could be identified. (e.g. whether animal abuse tends to precede
or follow human abuse), and the effect of companion animal abuse on adult victims as well as
children.
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2. METHOD
2.1. Identification of stories
Anonymous stories of animal abuse within the context of domestic violence (DV) were obtained from
online discussion forums where victims voluntarily shared their experiences. Data were collected over
a period of twelve months (February 2014 to February 2015) by the author and five assistants
(hereafter referred to as investigators), and only forums which contained stories written in the English
language were searched for and analyzed. Forums were located by entering a number of different
search terms into the five most popular search engines listed by eBizMBA Rank (2014), a continually
updated average of each website's Alexa Global Traffic Rank. These search engines were Google,
Yahoo, Bing, Ask, and AOL. A number of search terms were generated on the basis of commonly
used terminology relating to DV and animal abuse in the literature, and adding terms such as
“discussion board”, “forum” and so forth. The search terms were agreed upon by the investigators and
included: Domestic violence stories, Domestic violence forum, “Domestic violence discussion
board”, “Experiences of domestic violence”, Animal abuse stories, Animal abuse forum,
“Experiences of animal abuse”, Domestic violence and animal abuse stories, Domestic violence
and animal abuse forum, Pet abuse stories, Pet abuse forum, “Experiences of pet abuse”,
Partner violence forum, Partner violence stories, “Experiences of partner violence”, Intimate
partner violence stories”, Intimate partner violence forum, “Experiences of intimate partner
violence”, Intimate partner abuse stories, Intimate partner abuse forums, Domestic violence and
pet abuse forum, and Domestic violence and pet abuse stories”. All investigators searched for
stories using the same search terms and a list of suitable websites/forums was compiled. In keeping
with the British Psychological Societys (BPS, 2013) Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated
Research, the names and addresses of forums are not stated here as thismay compromise the
anonymity of individuals or have a negative effect on an online community(p.18).
Investigators entered the same words/phrases into the ‘search’ boxes in the forums, such as “Animal
abuse, Animal cruelty, Animal neglect, “Animal welfare, Pet violence, Pet abuse, Being
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cruel to animals, “Harming”, “Kicking, “Throwing”, “Attacking”, “Pet”, “Pets”, “Animal”
“Animals”, “Dog” “Dogs”, “Cat” “Cats”, “Rabbit”, “Rabbits” and so forth. Individual feeds were also
reviewed manually for relevant stories since the search function on some sites had limited utility. For
example, investigators scrolled through individual stories, looking out for words/phrases such as
“animal”, “dog”, “cat”, “threw”, “cruel to my dog”, “would hurt the dog unless I…” etc. in order to
identify stories which referred to incidents of animal neglect or deliberate cruelty in the context of a
domestically violent relationship. Stories were collected from forums until data saturation was
reached (i.e. until the investigators no longer found new categories and variations within categories, in
keeping with Willig, 2013).
Only publicly available information was sought and recorded; no forums were accessed which
required the use of log-in details, since it would have been unethical to pose as a victim of DV. For
this reason, it was not possible to converse with users to collect demographic data. The use of
publically available information meant that it was not necessary to obtain consent from the individuals
conversing within the forum. Ethical approval was granted by the author's University Research Ethics
Committee and the research was conducted in line with the ethical guidelines of the British
Psychological Society (BPS, 2013). The stories were saved in a password protected document and
duplicate stories were deleted. Seventy-seven stories were identified but three were excluded because
they contained information which was very personal in nature (such as the name of a family member)
and so these were omitted immediately at this stage. Thus, seventy-four stories in total were retained
for analysis.
2.2. Data analysis
Investigators independently analyzed the 74 stories using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
This was considered the most appropriate method of analysis as the research sought to describe and
interpret DV victims’ stories of animal abuse, and to take the context of behaviors into account.
Content analysis, on the other hand, places more emphasis on interpretation of behaviors (Vaismoradi,
Turunen & Bondas, 2013), and has been criticized for not considering their context due to its
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overreliance on the frequency of codes (Morgan, 1993). Inductive thematic analysis was used because
coded categories were identified from data collected from previously under-studied sources (online
forums), unlike deductive thematic analysis which is more useful when the aim of the analysis is to
test a previous theory or to compare categories/themes at different time points (Hsieh & Shannon,
2005). In accordance with the method described by Braun and Clarke (2006), each investigator
initially read the stories several times to familiarize themselves with interesting aspects of the data.
Following this, investigators independently recorded points of interest across the whole data set as
codes. Codes were then collated into potential themes and reviewed to ensure that they were
consistent with the coded extracts across the data set. In accordance with Sandelowski and Leeman
(2012), a theme was defined as a coherent integration of disparate pieces of data. Following this, each
investigator generated a thematic map which visually presented the codes, themes and their
relationships with the aim of identifying coherent but distinctive themes (Ryan & Bernard, 2000).
The senior investigator calculated the average percentage of agreement between each investigator
with regards the themes identified, and a good level of inter-coder reliability was reached (92
percent). This method of calculating percentage agreement is considered an important criterion for
assessing the value and rigour of qualitative research (e.g. Holsti, 1969; Mays & Pope, 1995; Rourke,
Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2007).
Although content analysis permits data to be quantified as well as analyzed qualitatively (Gbrich,
2007), thematic analysis provides a purely qualitative account of data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). For
this reason, the categories and themes identified in the current study are not described in quantitative
terms. The limitations of attempting to quantify qualitative data have been discussed elsewhere (see
Basit, 2003; Loffe & Yardley, 2004; Vaismoradi et al., 2013). For example, if a particular word or
coding category were to be identified more frequently in the stories of some DV victims than others
then this could suggest more importance, but it may instead mean that these individuals were more
willing to discuss the issue in detail. As Vaismoradi et al. (2013) note, “the importance of a theme is
not necessarily dependent on quantifiable measures, but rather on whether it captures something
important in relation to the overall research question” (p.403).
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3. RESULTS
From the analysis of the 74 stories, four themes were identified: The Victim-Companion Animal Bond;
Companion Animals Used to Control Victims; Victims' Perceptions of AbusersBehavior; and
Support for Victims and Companion Animals. Each theme consisted of subthemes which are presented
below. Extracts taken from the stories are provided to illustrate each theme and subtheme; these
quoted extracts were chosen based on how clear and representative they were of the themes (they do
not intend to represent all of the data that was identified as being relevant to a theme). These themes
are discussed later in relation to existing literature.
3.1. Theme 1: The Victim-Companion Animal Bond
The first theme was The Victim-Companion Animal Bond which comprised four subthemes. The first
subtheme was Companion Animals Possessing Characteristics the Perpetrator Lacks. A number of
victims talked about companion animals not judging them or letting them down, unlike their abusive
partners, and that they were grateful for their pets’ affection. One victim stated: "The dog is grateful
for everything I do, shows me affection, and is nicer to me. He also seeks and enjoys my company.
Unlike someone", and another said "My cats never let me down, unlike him". The second subtheme
was Companion Animals Providing Emotional Support for Victims and Children. Here, a number of
victims explained the extent to which they valued the closeness of their pet:
Animals can be so supportive in times of crisis.
The dogs were my only support system.
My dog was the only reason I remained sane throughout the violent ordeal.
My cats were the only friends I had before I left; they got me through so much.
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My rabbit is like my best friend, as daft as it sounds. I talk to her all the time and she just sits
on my lap and listens to me moan.
In addition to being a source of emotional support for adult victims, a number of stories illustrated that
companion animals provided relief for children:
My daughter always ran off to be with the dog when we argued.
My dog was a calming mechanism for both myself and for the children in the tense abusive
situations we used to be in constantly. We would spend ten minutes cuddling him and
everything would seem so much better.
I feared for the safety of my dog. He was my child's best friend.
I've gone everywhere trying to keep my apartment because I know that after all the abuse the
kids and me have been through, losing our home and pets who have helped us through all
the violence emotionally would kill them.
The third subtheme within Theme 1 was Companion Animals Protecting the Victim. A number of
victims reported that their pets provided them with physical protection from violent partners:
When my dog heard me scream, he laid on top of me. I tried to get him off but he took the first
punches. The dog attacked him but only to be beaten and thrown outside.
My son’s dog was trying to protect us.
We were so close that one of the dogs would cuddle into me when my ex approached.
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He actually saved my life staying with me 24 hours a day.
The final subtheme within Theme 1 was Risk-Taking to Protect a Companion Animal. Here, many
victims stated that they had stayed in the abusive environment, or left then returned in order to try to
keep their pets safe:
When I tried to leave he would say that he would kill the dog, so I would go back and get
beaten in order to save his life.
He had the dogs and was persistently beating them. I tried to stop him. He pushed me to the
ground and carried on with his destruction. I picked up my unconscious dog and carried her
to the house. I hid her and immediately returned hoping to save the other dog’s life.
One victim discussed these types of risk-taking behaviors stating "Why do we put ourselves in danger
to protect others yet do not protect ourselves?" In contrast, some victims reported occasions where
they did not take risks to protect their pets as they prioritized their own safety, or were fearful of the
abuser's behavior:
I was paralyzed with fear and too frightened to do anything so I did not try and stop him.
When he smashed the fish tank I sat there stunned and unable to move.
'That’s what she gets' he said after throwing the dog against the wall. I didn't do anything as
he looked really angry and I knew that he would start on me if I supported her.
He told me if I went to the aid of my injured dog he would shoot it.
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It must be borne in mind, however, that although these particular individuals did not report engaging
in risk taking behavior to protect their companion animals, this is not to say that they did not do so at
other points in time, or at different stages in the abusive relationship.
3.2. Theme 2: Companion Animals Used to Control Victims
The second theme identified was Companion Animals Used to Control Victims. One victim made it
clear that her partner was using violence, or the threat of it, to control her: "Constant threats to me, the
pets and the children showed us what he was capable of doing if we crossed the line". This theme
comprised three subthemes, the first of which was Isolation. This subtheme encompassed how abusive
partners tried to isolate victims by restricting their contact with friends and family:
I was scared of what he would do to my animals if I wasn’t there to watch them as I didn’t
have any family or friends for support.
I left my job to live with him and I can't talk to them [friends and family] about the abuse
myself and my pets go through.
The second subtheme within Theme 2 was Financial Control, which related to abusers preventing
victims from spending money. For example, one victim stated that He started taking my money away
and destroyed my credit card”, and another said: My dog was whining in pain and wouldn’t feed her
puppies. My husband forbade me to seek veterinary help and refused to give me any money for her to
be treated”. This subtheme links to the subtheme of 'Isolation' above since financial control is another
way to isolate the victim; not only has the abuser restricted how often the victim can go out/spend
time with friends and family, they have also restricted their spending, which makes them more reliant
on the abuser. Sadly, in some cases where a victim disobeyed the abuser's wishes, this resulted in the
abuse of an animal: He discovered I had lied about spending money when he found a receipt. In a
rage he threw my beloved dog out of the window of our third floor flat”, and "When I refused to give
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him money he made me watch his dog eat my hamster”. The third subtheme within Theme 2 was
Preventing the Victim from Leaving or Coercing them to Return, which was identified in a number of
extracts, for example:
He told me if I left he would put poison in my cats milk.
He said 'I've told you you're not going, and if you do I will drown that cat, don’t
think I'm joking' - so I didn't go.
Based on previously being raped, he threatened to ‘teach the dog’ how to rape me if I step out
of line again [try to leave].
Although these individuals did not refer to actual physical violence, the warning of such behavior was
enough to coerce them into staying for the safety of the animal. One victim demonstrated awareness
that threats of animal abuse were likely to be actioned by the abuser, which forced them to comply
with their requests to prevent the pet being harmed: “He had done it previously so I knew if I left he
would kill my pets. Any pets I left with him would be dead within the day. In other cases, the abuse
went beyond threats and manifested in physical harm of the animal when the victim threatened to
leave the abusive home:
He held my daughter's cat out the window and said he would drop it if we did not come home.
When I threatened to leave after he almost broke my jaw, he tied some string around my dog's
neck until the dog couldn’t breathe, and wouldn’t let my dog go until I promised I would stay.
I went to my parents after an argument and he told me to come home otherwise he would hurt
my cat. One night he injured me so badly my parents refused to let me go back and he
stabbed the cat.
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Of the victims who managed to flee the abusive environment on what they thought would be a
permanent basis, yet who couldn't take their pets with them, a few said that they felt guilty for leaving
them, which resulted in them returning home:
He left the dog in the flat without food or water for three weeks until a neighbor heard it
crying and contacted me. Not wanting animal services involved I had to go back for the
dogs' sake.
He sent me a video of him putting his hand over the dogs' mouth and nose to
suffocate it and then threw it against the cupboard. He told me if I didn’t
return for good the dog would die next time, so of course I went back.
These extracts indicate that the abusers succeeded in controlling the victims, and upon returning home,
a number of victims spoke about how their companion animals were abused in order to ensure that
they didn’t make the same ‘mistake’ again:
One evening I was home late and he warned me if I came home late again he would hurt my
new kitten. A week later I arrived home a few minutes late due to roadworks and he made me
watch while he put my kitten in the dryer and put it on.
He locked my dog in the shed overnight as punishment for me being home late from taking the
kids to school.
After my dogs killed my husband's two pigs when they escaped one evening, he 'punished me'
as he calls it by beating my dogs, one to death and one to the verge of death.
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My husband came home to his budgie which had died due to illness, however in a rage he
decided to blame my daughter's degus and proceeded to punish us by launching them one by
one off our balcony in front of us.
Sadly, one victim who found the courage to leave the relationship learned that their pet had been
killed as a consequence:
After I left, he took my dog to the vets and had it put down. This has absolutely killed me.
It is possible that perpetrators, as well as abusing animals as a practical means to control or punish
their partner, may also derive pleasure from doing so: “It frightened me the pleasure he took from
scaring and overpowering the dogs.” In other extracts it is not possible to determine whether the
abuser enjoyed the thrill of seeing their partner’s reaction at discovering that the dog had been killed
or whether they genuinely wanted to conceal their behavior: "He killed my dog and put its body in a
bag and disposed of it like rubbish in the recycling bin. I was distraught when he told me that the dog
had run away until his body was found and he admitted it."
3.3. Theme 3: Victims' Perceptions of Abusers’ Behavior
The third theme identified within the data was Victims’ Perceptions of the Abusers’ Behavior. The
first subtheme within this theme was To Discipline the Animal. One individual stated that "He [the
perpetrator] would say that he’s teaching them." and another stated that "He used to beat the dog
when he said that she had misbehaved. He claimed it was the only way to discipline her". Another
victim wrote "He did it to scare and intimidate me as well as to show me what he was capable of",
which indicates that abusers are giving a message to victims that if they disobey them then they will
experience similar violence. The second subtheme was Jealousy, in particular the abuser's jealousy of
the time and attention that victims showed companion animals. Interestingly, this subtheme appears to
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link to Theme 1 (The Victim-Companion Animal Bond) since victims’ stories suggest that the
stronger the victim-animal bond the more likely it is that the abuser will feel jealous:
They are jealous that they are not the sole receiver of our attention and that they have to
share it with pets. If they get rid of our pets they can be central in our lives.
My cats were very important to me so I turned my attention away from him which he was
extremely jealous about.
They are just jealous of how much love we have for our animals. It's his fault though, if he
didn't call me a slut he probably would get tuna for breakfast too!
One victim reported that she was forced to choose between her child and her pet: The dog was
thrown out as I was only allowed to keep one; either the baby or the dog”. As a result of this jealousy,
victims are often forced to find an alternative home for their pets, as one individual noted: "Pets are
used as a weapon of jealousy which leaves us no choice but to give them up". Interestingly, some
victims tried to justify the abuser's jealousy stating "In fairness I do spoil the dog". The third
subtheme within Theme 3 was The Abuser's Upbringing, which was identified in a number of stories
where victims often attributed an abuser's behavior to their childhood: !
He has always had violent tendencies toward me and the dogs; his father and grandfather
were similar and behaved in a violent way in their relationships which he witnessed as a
child.
He didn’t have a good upbringing, he spent time in care and his dad was an abusive
alcoholic to his mum.
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His upbringing was unstable. His mother and father went through a bad divorce after years
of violence in front of him and his sister.
However, some victims suggested that their partners used their background as a way to justify their
behavior: "He uses the fact his dad was an alcoholic as an excuse for his abusive drunken behavior
now", and another victim talked about how she had tried to find out whether her partner had been
previously abusive: "I heard rumors he used to beat up his girlfriends. When I asked him about it he
told me they had pushed him to it and it ‘wasn’t in his nature really".
The final subtheme within Theme 3 was the Use of Alcohol, which a number of victims linked to their
partner’s abusive behavior:
He was a big drinker, definitely an alcoholic. One day he sent me out for booze and I
bought the ‘wrong thing’. He ordered me out to buy what he actually wanted and when I
got back he stamped on my cat until she was limping and told me if I ever got the wrong
booze again it would be worse next time.
He wouldn’t come home after work, he would go straight to the pub and get drunk; he
would then come home and physically or verbally abuse me or the dog.
These extracts present concerns victims have of their abusive partner drinking alcohol and
demonstrates their awareness that it is a catalyst for abuse.
3.4. Theme 4: Support for Victims and Companion Animals
The final theme identified within the data was Support for Victims and Companion Animals. The first
subtheme within this theme was Police Perceiving Animal Abuse as Unimportant, which is illustrated
by the following extracts:
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19!
I felt like the police officer thought I was being dramatic.
The police officer accused me of being hypersensitive.
They just don't seem to think that animals matter.
He has made threats I believe he will follow through with but the police
don’t seem interested, so it's going to have to be something really serious
that happens before they take notice.
The second subtheme within Theme 4 was!Lack of Services for DV Victims with Pets. The importance
of finding safety for companion animals was significant for many victims who had decided to leave
an abusive relationship:
My cats were my priority when I left, forget the house and him; I needed to get my cats out.
I need to relocate my pets before I leave as escaping in the middle of the night with my pets
would be difficult.
I brought my dog with me when I left as I could not leave him to suffer in my ex’s hands.
One victim demonstrated awareness of the existence of shelters for DV victims, but talked about how
services are lacking which enable victims to flee with their companion animals in tow: "Why don't
people who run safe places for victims realize that having pets is very reassuring, provides motivation
to get up and that the unconditional cuddles we receive from our pets are invaluable?" Unfortunately,
this resulted in some victims staying in the abusive environment: "I was too scared to leave as I
couldn’t take my dog with me and didn’t want him to get hurt".
!
20!
However, some victims were not aware of existing services: "When I sought refuge I left my cats
behind. The refuge worker found out about pet fostering for me." and "Although it was too late for me,
whilst in refuge a lady put her dog into pet fostering." In addition, some victims who were aware of
such services questioned the extent to which the services met their needs: "I contacted an
organization which had occasional spaces but when I applied there were none available", and another
was surprised to learn that the shelter she contacted did not accept all types of pets: "The animal
shelters only took dogs".
4. DISCUSSION
4.1. Summary
The current study utilized a novel method previously overlooked in the literature on companion
animal abuse, which involved obtaining stories of DV victims experiences via online discussion
forums. Unlike many previous studies in this area (e.g. Allen et al., 2006; Faver & Strand, 2003;
Hardesty et al., 2013), DV victims in the current study were not housed in shelters, and so the findings
are likely to encompass a more diverse sample of victims, including those who may not have sought
shelter because they did not consider their abuse to be serious enough to warrant this, or those who
were physically unable to flee the relationship. In addition, because the study collected data from a
wide variety of online forums accessed by multi-users (rather than accessing victims in specific
geographical localities), the findings are likely to be more generalizable to victims of DV worldwide.
Furthermore, victims’ experiences may have been captured in more detail since the study was not
constrained by ethical problems inherent in interview and questionnaire-based studies, such as
victims’ experiencing feelings of shame and embarrassment, or knowing that the researcher has a duty
to disclose information pertaining to an at-risk child to the relevant authorities. This latter issue may
be particularly relevant for victims experiencing/witnessing more minor forms of abuse/animal abuse
which have not yet been brought to the attention of the authorities.
!
21!
The current study sought to explore DV victims’ freely discussed experiences of companion animal
abuse, including how pets were maltreated and the circumstances in which they were maltreated,
victims’ perceptions of perpetrators’ motivations for animal abuse), whether victims discussed
particular patterns of behavior, and the effect companion animal abuse had on them and other family
members, including children. Four themes were identified within the data: The Victim-Companion
Animal Bond; Companion Animals Used to Control Victims; Victims’ Perceptions of Abusers’
Behavior; and Support for Victims and Companion Animals. These themes are discussed below in
relation to existing literature, and the implications of findings for policy relating to the police, DV
shelters and animal welfare organizations are considered.
4.2. Discussion of themes
Theme 1 (The Victim-Companion Animal Bond) demonstrated that many DV victims have a strong
bond with their companion animals, which is consistent with previous reports that DV victims often
consider their pets to be a member of the family (Ascione et al., 2007; Flynn; 2000b; Hardesty et al.,
2013; Lacroix, 1998; Risley-Curtiss et al., 2006). Subtheme 1 within this theme (Companion Animals
Possessing Characteristics the Perpetrator Lacks) aligns with Beck and Madresh’s (2008) claim that
"pets fill a specific role by providing a consistent, and relatively controllable, sense of relationship
security." (p.53); for victims who do not feel a sense of security within their relationship, companion
animals appear to fulfill an important role that the abuser does not. Subtheme 2 (Companion Animals
Providing Emotional Support for Victims and Children) supports prior research which has found that
pets provide emotional support for adult DV victims and children (Beck & Madresh, 2008; McDonald
et al., 2015). The stories analyzed in the current study clearly highlight the importance of pets for
many children and how they witness acts of companion animal abuse. This is important because
children who witness animal abuse are more likely than other children to develop emotional and
behavioral problems (Girardi & Pozzulo, 2015; McDonald et al., 2016), and so professionals working
with victims must consider the trauma encountered as a result of such experiences. Subtheme 4 (Risk
Taking to Protect a Companion Animal) echos the findings of Trollinger (2001), who found that many
victims postponed leaving their abuser out of fear of what would happen to their pet.
!
22!
Theme 2 (Companion Animals Used to Control Victims) is in keeping with previous studies which
have reported that companion animal abuse is often used as a form of psychological abuse to control
human victims (Ascione, 1998; Flynn, 2000a), and is consistent with feminist theories of patriarchal
control and power which argue that men control women within the family home (Shepard & Pence,
1999). Subtheme 3 (Preventing the Victim from Leaving or Coercing them to Return) supports prior
research which has found that companion animal abuse is used to control DV victims. However, this
subtheme also advances our understanding of why companion animals are used to control human
victims; some of the stories analyzed in the current study suggest that there are differences in how
perpetrators abuse companion animals for the purpose of preventing the victim from leaving or
coercing them to return, for example, whether they commit a series of abusive acts of increasing
severity or commit one very serious or fatal act, and whether they abuse the animal in front of the
victim or when the victim is not present, which may link to whether they enjoy watching the victim's
reaction to the abuse or choose not to be present when the victim witnesses the consequences of the
abuse. In addition, although the findings within this theme indicate that perpetrators frequently exploit
the victim-companion animal bond, it is difficult to determine whether animal abuse precedes the
initiation of human-directed DV or whether it follows on from human-directed DV. Furthermore, not
all DV perpetrators harm animals or vice versa (Bell, 2001), and so further research is needed to
investigate why some do whereas others do not. In addition, although limited research (e.g. Febres et
al., 2012) has investigated animal abuse carried out by female DV perpetrators, it is not known
whether the types of abuse differ to those carried out by men, and so this may be a fruitful avenue for
future research.
Within Theme 2, some victims reported that their partner appeared to enjoying harming their
companion animals in front of them, which is consistent with Hensley and Tallichet’s (2005) finding
that a number of perpetrators abuse animals ‘for fun’. However, other stories suggested that the abuser
may have wanted to conceal their behaviour. This is interesting because such concealment of animal
abuse may suggest a different motivation for animal abuse other than control (Ascione et al., 2007). It
is difficult to ascertain whether animal abuse precedes or follows the initiation of DV. In cases where
!
23!
an abuser has sadistic tendencies (such as in the example above where the victim describes her partner
as deriving pleasure from overpowering her dogs), animal abuse may precede the initiation of DV (an
abuser with a sadistic personality may begin by abusing animals and then progress onto humans in
accordance with the graduation hypothesis; Arluke, Levin, Luke, & Ascione, 1999). In other cases, an
abuser may begin to abuse animals only once in an abusive relationship in order to control the victim.
From this point of view, Theme 2 (Companion Animals used to Control Victims) appears to link to
Theme 1 (The Victim-Companion Animal Bond); the stronger the victim-animal bond the more likely
it may be that the perpetrator will abuse a companion animal to control the victim. It is possible then
that different patterns of DV and animal abuse may be underpinned by different pathways.
Theme 3 (Victims’ Perceptions of Abusers’ Behavior) encompassed a number of subthemes.
Subtheme 1 (To Discipline the Animal) parallels the theme of Animal maltreatment to discipline or
punish the pet’ identified by McDonald et al. (2015) in their study of children’s experiences of
companion animal abuse. Subtheme 2 identified in the current study (Jealousy) may help to explain
why perpetrators try to prevent victims from leaving the relationship or coerce them to return (see
Theme 2, subtheme 3), and so it would be interesting to explore associations between different
methods of preventing victims from leaving/coercing them to return and different attachment styles
and personality attributes such as jealousy, psychopathy, callous-unemotional trait, sadism, and so
forth. Specifically, future research is planned to explore whether ‘subtypes’ of domestic animal
abuser can be identified. For example, consistent with conceptualizations of human-directed violence
(e.g. Cornell, Warren, Hawk, Stafford, Oram, & Pine, 1996), the current findings suggest that there
may be callous/instrumental perpetrators and reactive emotional companion animal perpetrators.
Subtheme 3 (The Abuser’s Upbringing) within Theme 3 highlighted that many victims attempted to
understand their partner’s behaviour by making reference to their childhood, which has been
previously under-explored in this area of the literature. Consistent with research that has reported
associations between substance abuse and DV (e.g. Brookoff, O’Brien, Cook, Thomson & Williams,
1997), the final subtheme (Use of Alcohol) encompassed a number of stories where victims talked
about their partners’ use of alcohol and how this often fuelled their abusive behavior.
!
24!
Theme 4 (Support for Victims and Companion Animals) encompassed two subthemes which have
implications for policy and practice relating to police training, legislation, domestic violence shelters,
child protection organizations, and animal welfare organizations. Subtheme 1 (Police Perceiving
Animal Abuse as Unimportant) is consistent with a recent inspection report published by Her
Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC, 2014) on the police's approach to domestic violence
(DV) in England and Wales, which stated that "the overall police response to victims of domestic
abuse is not good enough." (p.6). It states that although DV was a priority on paper this did not
always translate into operational practice and that the failings were attributable to a lack of visible
leadership from senior officers, poor training and inappropriate attitudes of officers. Although the
report refers to 'children' or 'child' 86 times there is not one mention of 'animals', ‘companion animals’
or 'pets' being victims of DV. The report states that "A proper understanding of domestic abuse, and
an appreciation of the harm it causes to victims and their children, is essential if officers are to carry
out effectively their core policing activities of keeping victims safe…" (p.8). Thus, changes to policy
are needed if police are to perceive animal abuse in DV households as a serious issue. Police training
should focus on raising awareness of the importance of animal abuse in terms of its detrimental effect
on adult victims and children.
The police must also work more closely with animal welfare organizations such as the RSPCA in
order to increase public awareness of animal abuse within the context of DV. Given the finding that
some victims tried to justify the abuser's behavior (see Theme 3), campaigns must highlight that
animal abuse can never be justified, regardless of the abuser's personality, or whether they are jealous
of a companion animal, etc. Such raising of public awareness may increase the number of DV victims
who report animal abuse.
One of the victim’s stories analyzed in the current research revealed that they had tried to find out
more about their partner from family and friends after hearing rumors that he had been previously
abusive. It is therefore important that police and DV organizations ensure that victims are aware of
!
25!
schemes such as the Domestic Violence Disclose Scheme (DVDS) in England and Wales which
enable people to make enquiries about whether an individual they are in a relationship with have a
history of abusive behavior (Greater Manchester Police, 2013). Furthermore, despite there being laws
which protect the welfare of animals (such as The Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales),
restraining orders taken out by DV victims may not extend to companion animals and so revised
legislation is needed in order to expand their limits.
Theme 4, Subtheme 2 (Lack of Services for DV Victims with Pets) is consistent with literature which
has reported that DV victims delay seeking shelter due to a concern for their pets' welfare (e.g.
Ascione et al., 2007; Flynn, 2000a; Hardesty et al., 2013; Volant et al., 2008). For example, Flynn
(2000a) found that 52% of women admitted staying with their abusive partners because there was no
outside care for their animals. Women's Aid (2013) estimates that 155 women and 103 children are
turned away each day from the first DV shelter they approach mainly due to lack of space. Although
many DV shelter administrators are aware that there is an association between DV and companion
animal abuse (Komorosky, Rush-Woods & Empie, 2015), many shelters do not include intake
questions about companion animals (Faver & Strand, 2003; Krienert, Walsh, Matthews, &
McConkey, 2012), and most do not accommodate them because of a lack of funding, available
resources, and health and safety concerns (Krienert et al., 2012). Recent recommendations have been
made for how community support can be developed for DV victims and their companion animals
(Komorosky et al., 2015; Long & Kulkarni, 2013), and the current findings lend support to the
recommendation that DV services, animal shelters and community organizations must work together
to provide joint refuge for DV victims and their companion animals. For example, DV shelters could
ask all service-users about experiences of companion animal abuse and work with animal shelters to
find a safe haven for pets (e.g. via the use of pet-fostering services).
Joint training initiatives are required for individuals who work in the areas of DV, child protection and
animal welfare so that the links between these areas are better understood and to determine their
implications for practice. Girardi and Pozzulo (2012) examined how often child protection workers
!
26!
(CPWs) in Canada sought information about animal abuse during investigations of child
maltreatment, and found that although the majority of CPWs witnessed animal neglect, they seldom
included this in their reports. Although the authors suggest that CPWs should routinely ask children
and caregivers questions about animal abuse and observe the living conditions and behavior of
companion animals when conducting risk assessments, the findings of this study also indicate that
CPWs would benefit from more training on the link between DV and companion animal abuse and its
effects on children. This is consistent with other research which has discussed the importance of
practitioners recognizing the effects that companion animals have on peoples’ lives (see Williams,
2015). Finally, consistent with other studies (e.g. Hardesty et al., 2013), the current findings (see
Theme 4, subtheme 2) suggest that some DV victims are not aware of services available to them and
so awareness-raising of these is needed, for example by advertising services on online DV forums,
nightclubs, doctor's surgeries, veterinary surgeries, etc. Ultimately, awareness of these services needs
to increase so that victims -- both human and animal -- are able to live in safety.
4.3. Limitations of the study
A number of limitations with the current study must be acknowledged. First, because only publicly
available information was analyzed it is possible that different themes may have been identified had
other forums which required login details also been accessed. However, it is probable that similar
stories would have been shared on these forums. A limitation of using anonymous forums was that
demographic or other variables could not be examined (e.g. such as age or ethnicity). This meant that
no statistical analyses could be conducted to explore any potential relationships between these
variables and abuse. A second limitation of the study is that it was not possible to conduct any
statistical analysis of the most frequently abused animals since not all stories contained this
information; some individuals referred only to my petor my animals. Of those who did specify
the type of animal, in the vast majority of cases these were dogs and/or cats. Thirdly, the data may not
have captured the experiences of all DV victims; for example, if younger people are more likely to
use the internet than older people then the findings may more strongly represent a younger generation.
In addition, some DV victims may not have access to the internet (e.g. in more impoverished
!
27!
countries) and some abusers may restrict or forbid use of the internet to isolate victims. A further
limitation of the study is that the stories analyzed represent one-sided accounts of DV and animal
abuse and so it is possible that victims may have exaggerated claims due to feelings of victimization.
This, however, is also a problem for interview- and questionnaire-based studies. Finally, because the
study did not provide any contact with victims it was not possible to ask follow-up questions or to
examine changes over time in DV/animal abuse behaviors.
Acknowledgements
Thank you to Laura Hall, Sophia Abedi, Danielle Allwright, Siobhan Talbot and Helen Thompson for
their help with data collection.
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... Our review of the literature located 37 articles that included prevalence statistics (see Tables 2 and 3). Of those, 20 studies included samples of adult survivors of IPV who reported their exposure to animal cruelty during their relationship with their partner (Ascione 1997;Ascione et al. 2007;Barrett et al. 2018Barrett et al. 2 , 2020Campbell et al. 2021;Collins et al. 2018 3 ;Faver and Cavazos 2007;Faver and Strand 2003;Fitzgerald et al. 2019;Flynn 2000aFlynn , 2000bGallagher et al. 2008;Hartman et al. 2018 3 ;Loring and Bolden-Hines 2004;McDonald et al. 2017 3 ;Newberry 2017;Simmons and Lehmann 2007;Strand and Faver 2005;Tiplady et al. 2018;Volant et al. 2008); four studies included a community sample and specifically examined the co-occurring prevalence of IPV and animal cruelty (Fielding and Plumridge 2010;Fitzgerald et al. 2022;Riggs et al. 2021;Volant et al. 2008). Thirteen studies included prevalence rates of exposure to IPV and animal cruelty during childhood Volant et al. 2008). ...
... Prevalence rates varied widely across studies. In the included studies, 3% to 89% of adult survivors of IPV reported their partner had perpetrated animal cruelty, such as threatening to hurt or kill their pet and/or actually hurting or killing their pet (Ascione 1997;Ascione et al. 2007;Barrett et al. 2018 2 ;2020 2 ;Campbell et al. 2021;Collins et al. 2018 3 ;Faver and Cavazos 2007;Faver and Strand 2003;Fitzgerald et al. 2019;Flynn 2000aFlynn , 2000bGallagher et al. 2008;Hartman et al. 2018 3 ;Loring and Bolden-Hines 2004;McDonald et al. 2017 3 ;Newberry 2017;Simmons and Lehmann 2007;Strand and Faver 2005;Tiplady et al. 2018;Volant et al. 2008). Further, among adult survivors of IPV, 7% to 11.1% reported that they had perpetrated animal abuse (Ascione 1997;Ascione et al. 1997). ...
... Four qualitative studies and three quantitative studies provide additional information regarding how animal cruelty is used as an IPV tactic. Generally, victims (Collins et al. 2018 3 ;Fitzgerald et al. 2019;Gallagher et al. 2008;McDonald et al. 2019 3 ;Newberry 2017;Tiplady et al. 2018) and IPV perpetrators (Levitt et al. 2016) both report that animal cruelty is used as a means of coercion, control, and/or retaliation within an IPV relationship. Fitzgerald et al. (2019) examined predictors of animal cruelty, adjusting for age, race, and type of IPV (e.g., psychological aggression, physical assault, sexual coercion). ...
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There is some evidence that family violence (intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, elder abuse) co-occurs with animal cruelty (i.e., threats to and/or actual harm of an animal), which is often referred to as “the link.” The aim of this scoping review was to systematically search the literature to determine the extent of empirical evidence that supports the co-occurrence of family violence and animal cruelty and that provides prevalence rates of the co-occurrence. We searched eight electronic databases (e.g., Academic Search Complete, PsycArticles, PubMed) for peer-reviewed articles published until September 2021. Articles were eligible for inclusion if they were written in English and included the empirical study of at least one form of family violence and animal cruelty. We identified 61 articles for inclusion. The majority of articles (n=48) focused on co-occurring IPV and animal cruelty and 20 articles examined child maltreatment and animal cruelty. No articles examining elder abuse and animal cruelty were found. Prevalence rates of “the link” ranged from <1% to >80%. Findings regarding the association between family violence and animal cruelty varied. Some studies found that family violence was significantly associated with animal cruelty (or vice versa), but there was also evidence that the association was not statistically significant. Associations between family violence and animal cruelty were not significant in most studies that adjusted for sociodemographic factors. This suggests that sociodemographic factors (e.g., exposure to multiple forms of violence, income) may explain the co-occurrence of family violence and animal cruelty. Based on the results of our scoping review, we recommend that caution should be taken regarding assertions of “the link” without further research to better understand the co-occurrence of family violence and animal cruelty and the factors and mechanisms that influence their co-occurrence.
... Este trauma, por lo general, está ligado a algún evento de violencia que nos impactará directa o indirectamente (Taylor & Fraser, 2019). La relación humano-animal es cada vez más reconocida como un posible vector para el manejo de trauma y su recuperación (Newberry, 2017;Signal et al., 2018;Stevenson et al., 2018). Consistentemente, los hallazgos del presente estudio evidencian que la mayoría de las personas participantes que experimentaron violencia de género considera que las mascotas les proveen compañía, les sirven de terapia y les hacen olvidar sus problemas, aspectos esenciales para lidiar con el trauma. ...
... Igualmente, tal y como exponen Brown et al. (2016), las mascotas ayudan a modular los sentimientos negativos que surgen cuando las personas sienten e interpretan que son rechazadas socialmente, o se sienten solas y aisladas, características comunes en las víctimas de violencia de género. Más aun, las mascotas pueden proveer un sentido de seguridad y ser de gran ayuda en la recuperación de personas víctimas de violencia de género (Newberry, 2017). Esa sensación de seguridad se conoce como seguridad bio-afiliativa (O'Haire et al., 2019). ...
... They speak to a need to act before it's too late, creating a sense of urgency. Similarly, the link between human and animal violence, as established in the literature [46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53], was addressed on numerous occasions with the view propounded that animal cruelty should be stopped before it progresses into human violence. ...
... Discussion of penalties in these articles, creates an urgency for harsher penalties given the heinous nature of the case. In addition, this urgency for harsher penalties can also be created through referral to the established link between acts of human violence and animal cruelty [46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]. The 'link' suggests that offenders who are deliberately cruel to animals are more likely to be violent to humans, as evidence suggests these offenders have the potential to develop into child abusers [24,31], spouse-beaters [24][25][26][27][28], or even murderers [29,30]. ...
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Media portrayals of animal cruelty can shape public understanding and perception of animal welfare law. Given that animal welfare law in Australia is guided partially by ‘community expectations’, the media might indirectly be influencing recent reform efforts to amend maximum penalties in Australia, through guiding and shaping public opinion. This paper reports on Australian news articles which refer to penalties for animal cruelty published between 1 June 2019 and 1 December 2019. Using the electronic database Newsbank, a total of 71 news articles were included for thematic analysis. Three contrasting themes were identified: (1) laws are not good enough; (2) laws are improving; and (3) reforms are unnecessary. We propose a penalty reform cycle to represent the relationship between themes one and two, and ‘community expectations’. The cycle is as follows: media reports on recent amendments imply that ‘laws are improving’ (theme two). Due to a range of inherent factors in the criminal justice system, harsher sentences are not handed down by the courts, resulting in media report of ‘lenient sentencing’ (theme one). Hence, the public become displeased with the penal system, forming the ‘community expectations’, which then fuel future reform efforts. Thus, the cycle continues.
... On this note, Hanrahan and Chalmers (2020) have argued that animal welfare issues require a greater focus in the realm of social work services. They argue that the lack of service coordination and cross-sector reporting between social work agencies and animal welfare authorities fails to acknowledge the established link between interpersonal violence and animal cruelty (Walton-Moss et al., 2005;Volant et al., 2008;DeGue and DiLillo, 2009;Flynn, 2011;Febres et al., 2014;Levitt et al., 2016;Newberry, 2017;Macias-Mayo, 2018). Hence, as with mandated veterinary reporting there is the potential to mandate reporting for social workers, especially considering these professionals likely have greater insight into human-animal relations, and access into private homes, compared to the general public. ...
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Nature of reform to animal welfare legislation in Australia has commonly been attributed to increasing alignment with the ‘communities’ expectations’, implying that the community has power in driving legislative change. Yet, despite this assertion there has been no publicly available information disclosing the nature of these ‘expectations’, or the methodology used to determine public stance. However, based on previous sociological research, as well as legal reforms that have taken place to increase maximum penalties for animal welfare offences, it is probable that the community expects harsher penalties for offences. Using representative sampling of the Australian public, this study provides an assessment of current community expectations of animal welfare law enforcement. A total of 2152 individuals participated in the survey. There was strong support for sentences for animal cruelty being higher in magnitude (50% support). However, a large proportion (84%) were in favour of alternate penalties such as prohibiting offenders from owning animals in the future. There was also a belief that current prosecution rates were too low with 80% of respondents agreeing to this assertion. Collectively, this suggests a greater support for preventing animal cruelty through a stronger enforcement model rather than punishing animal cruelty offenders through harsher sentences. This potentially indicates a shift in public opinion towards a more proactive approach to animal welfare, rather than a reactive approach to animal cruelty.
... A large body of scientific literature has considered the physical and psychological benefits that both humans and animals may obtain by living together in a reciprocated interaction (e.g., humans: 21, [70][71][72][73][74]; see [75,76] for critical analyses; animals: [77][78][79]). However, there is also extensive literature showing that human-animal relationships are characterized by different forms and levels of discomfort and suffering for animals (e.g., [11,68,69,[80][81][82]). ...
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The human–animal relationship is ancient, complex and multifaceted. It may have either positive effects on humans and animals or poor or even negative and detrimental effects on animals or both humans and animals. A large body of literature has investigated the beneficial effects of this relationship in which both human and animals appear to gain physical and psychological benefits from living together in a reciprocated interaction. However, analyzing the literature with a different perspective it clearly emerges that not rarely are human–animal relationships characterized by different forms and levels of discomfort and suffering for animals and, in some cases, also for people. The negative physical and psychological consequences on animals’ well-being may be very nuanced and concealed, but there are situations in which the negative consequences are clear and striking, as in the case of animal violence, abuse or neglect. Empathy, attachment and anthropomorphism are human psychological mechanisms that are considered relevant for positive and healthy relationships with animals, but when dysfunctional or pathological determine physical or psychological suffering, or both, in animals as occurs in animal hoarding. The current work reviews some of the literature on the multifaceted nature of the human–animal relationship; describes the key role of empathy, attachment and anthropomorphism in human–animal relationships; seeks to depict how these psychological processes are distorted and dysfunctional in animal hoarding, with highly detrimental effects on both animal and human well-being.
... Recent meta-analyses found dog ownership to be associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality, as compared with non-ownership (Kramer et al., 2019), and that pet ownership is associated with lower adjusted cardiovascular disease risk in patients with established cardiovascular maladies (Yeh et al., 2019). There is also evidence that pet ownership is associated with mental health benefits (e.g., Bao & Schreer, 2016;Bolstad et al., 2021;Branson et al., 2017) and that bondedness to pets may be related to family functioning (Cox, 1993;Walsh 2009aWalsh , 2009b and may be important in domestic violence and battered partners' decisions about leaving an abusive relationship (Cleary et al., 2021;Faver & Strand, 2003;Newberry, 2017;Strand & Faver, 2005;Newberry, 2016). ...
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A significant percentage of US households have at least one pet. A recent poll found that over 90% of pet owners feel their pet is a family member, suggesting the definition of “family” should include pets. Some studies have found that pet ownership has physical, mental, and social health benefits for the owner, although other research has not found this. It is thought this variability is due to methodological issues. A significant issue identified is measurement problems, including a lack of validity and reliability evidence. Measurement equivalence is an important type of this evidence, and Black/African Americans should be included in research on this as they are an understudied, historically marginalized population. The Family Bondedness Scale (FBS) is a recently developed measure of the degree to which a pet owner feels emotionally bonded to their pet in a manner comparable to their emotional bonding with a human member of their family. This paper describes a measurement equivalence study of the FBS between Black/African American (n = 496) and White (n = 405) pet-owning populations. Results of multi-group confirmatory factor analyses with covariates were consistent with configural, metric, and threshold equivalence between Black/African American and White pet owners. The use of this measure in research and professional practice for numerous professions, including veterinary medicine, social work, veterinary social work, psychology, and other professions is considered. Implications for future measurement equivalence and validity research on scores from the FBS are also discussed.
... However, the relationship between children witnessing animal abuse and engaging in animal cruelty is not clear. Most existing literature in this area has tended to focus on children's propensity to abuse animals and their witnessing of such abuse (Newberry, 2017). More research is clearly needed with community children in order to establish causal relationships. ...
Article
In recent years school bullying and other forms of aggressive behaviors in children and adolescents have become an issue of great concern among parents, psychologists, and educators. This study examined the relationship between school bullying and animal abuse in a community sample of school-age children. One hundred and seventy-four elementary school students from central Greece participated in the study and filled in self-report questionnaires which examined animal abuse, bullying – victimization, empathy, self-control, and peer interactions. Results showed that bullying behavior and peer victimization are associated with both direct abuse of animals and witnessing violence against animals. Multiple regression analysis indicated that witnessing animal abuse and being victimized by peers are positive predictors of bullying. Empathy, self-control, and peer interactions failed to predict school bullying. We discuss theoretical mechanisms linking bullying/victimization and animal abuse as well as directions for future research.
Chapter
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health crisis that affects a large proportion of the population in the U.S. It profoundly influences the economy, health, the well-being of victims and their families, and the community and society. Most importantly, the underlying causes of IPV are complex and deeply entrenched in places permeated with patriarchal values and gender stereotypes. IPV is maintained and even abetted, varying by space, place, and time. The chapter focuses on the process of maintaining and reproducing socioeconomic inequality in relationship violence in rural areas. It examines the varied challenges and obstacles experienced by rural IPV victims. It also provides strength-based solutions to break the cycle of generational violence.
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The study examines the legislative issues associated with providing a legal solution to the problem of the circus training of wild animals in the post-communist context. These issues are demonstrated using the example of the Czech Republic. In 2020, the country passed a comprehensive amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll. on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty, which prohibits, among other things, the training of wild animals in circuses with effect from January 2022. The study focuses on the following research questions: What are the main determinants of the prohibition of wild animal training? and, What were the main arguments with respect to the wild animal training prohibition mentioned by politicians during the parliamentary debate? The data analysed here consist of parliamentary debates and texts presented by institutions advocating for or against the ban.
Article
Background: This study aimed to examine veterinarians' experiences of treating cases of nonaccidental injury and other forms of animal abuse and to assess their support needs and barriers to reporting cases. Methods: An online questionnaire was completed by 215 veterinarians. The survey included items on demographics and veterinary experience, experience of nonaccidental injuries during the last 12 months, case studies, perceptions of the roles of veterinarians in identifying and reporting cases, and barriers to reporting. Results: Fifty-three percent reported treating cases and 9% reported suspected cases of abuse in the last 12 months. Experience of abuse in the last 12 months did not vary in terms of veterinarians' age, sex or number of years in practice. The most commonly affected animals were dogs, cats and rabbits, and the most common forms of abuse were neglect and physical abuse. Case studies focused on physical abuse cases, but neglect cases more often resulted in death. Veterinarians showed high concern about animal abuse but varied in their confidence to intervene and perceived barriers to reporting. Conclusion: Experience of animal abuse is common, and veterinarians feel a strong moral duty to act, but can lack confidence in intervening. Abuse cases affect stress levels and compassion fatigue; therefore, support and training are needed.
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This study examined profiles of adjustment in an ethnically diverse sample of 291 school-age children recruited from community-based domestic violence services. Using latent profile analysis (LPA), six domains of adjustment were examined: social problems, attention problems, internalizing behavior, externalizing behavior, empathy, and callous/unemotional traits. Results of the LPA provided support for three distinct profiles of socioemotional functioning among children in the sample: Resilient (66 %; n = 191), Struggling (28 %; n = 83), and Severe Maladjustment (6 %; n = 17). Variables that distinguished between the profiles included: children’s race/ethnicity, exposure to concomitant animal cruelty, relationship to the abusive partner, and the duration of their maternal caregiver’s experience of IPV. Study results lend support to previous research suggesting differential patterns of socioemotional adjustment among children exposed to IPV.
Article
We explored the relation between empathy, callous-unemotional (CU) traits, and animal abuse in a sample of 290 seven- to twelve-year-old children whose mothers were exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV). The sample comprises mostly Latino and White participants, and 55% of the children's mothers were born outside the United States (primarily Mexico). To our knowledge, among studies examining child-perpetrated animal abuse, this study is the first to examine empathy levels and one of only a few to examine CU traits. When comparing Griffith Empathy Measure (empathy) and Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (callous-unemotional [CU] traits) scores with those from studies of White schoolchildren, our sample scored lower on affective empathy, higher on cognitive empathy, and lower for overall CU scores as well as Callous and Unemotional subscales. Of 290 children, 47 (16.2%) harmed an animal at least once according to either mother or child report. There were no significant sex or age differences between Abuse and No Abuse groups. The Abuse group scored significantly higher on affective empathy, CU, and Callousness/Unemotional subscales, and significantly lower on cognitive empathy. However, in regression analyses that controlled for income, only lower cognitive empathy and higher CU significantly predicted having abused an animal. In summary, low cognitive empathy (but not affective empathy) and CU traits may serve as reliable predictors of child animal abuse. However, replication of these results is necessary. A larger sample with a high percentage of Latino children whose mothers were exposed to IPV, along with a non-exposed comparison group, would be ideal.
Article
The goal of the current study was to examine the association between demographic characteristics and childhood experiences on the respondents’ age of committing childhood animal cruelty and its recurrency. Using data collected from 257 male inmates at a Southern medium-security state prison, the current study seeks to replicate a study by Hensley, Tallichet, and Dutkiewicz. Results revealed that those respondents who were physically abused as children reported engaging in recurrent animal cruelty. The younger the age of respondent for first witnessing animal cruelty, the sooner his initiation to hurting and killing animals occurred. In addition, those who reported witnessing a parent commit acts of animal abuse reported that they committed animal abuse themselves at an older age, while those who witnessed a brother/sister commit animal abuse reported engaging in it at an earlier age. Therefore, physical abuse and witnessing primary socializers engage in animal abuse seem to be important in understanding the respondents’ age of onset and repeated childhood animal cruelty.
Article
Existing research suggests that various forms of family violence such as domestic violence and child abuse tend to coexist or cluster. Although the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence is well publicized, little research has examined various forms of animal abuse and possible links between corresponding forms of interpersonal offenses. The present study examined a subsample obtained from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. (BAU) III - Crimes Against Children, which included the criminal histories of 150 adult males arrested for animal cruelty, neglect or sexual abuse in the U.S. between 2004 and 2009. The sample was described in terms of demographic and criminal characteristics. Results indicated that 41% of the offenders in the sample were arrested for interpersonal violence at least once, 18% were arrested for a sex offense such as rape or child molestation, and 28% were arrested for another interpersonal crime such as violating a restraining order or harassment. Significant relationships were discovered between Active animal cruelty (such as beating or stabbing) and both interpersonal violence and substance abuse as well as between sexually abusing animals and sexual offending against humans. These results point to the need for increased collaboration between animal welfare agencies and the social service and legal entities responsible for protecting domestic violence victims, children, elders, and others at risk groups.
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Preschool children (N = 107) were divided into 4 groups on the basis of maternal report; home and shelter groups exposed to verbal and physical conflict, a home group exposed to verbal conflict only, and a home control group. Parental ratings of behavior problems and competencies and children's self-report data were collected. Results show that verbal conflict only was associated with a moderate level of conduct problems: verbal plus physical conflict was associated with clinical levels of conduct problems and moderate levels of emotional problems; and verbal plus physical conflict plus shelter residence was associated with clinical levels of conduct problems, higher level of emotional problems, and lower levels of social functioning and perceived maternal acceptance. Findings suggests a direct relationship between the nature of the conflict and residence and type and extent of adjustment problems.