Tag Archives: the link

Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse- Ken Shapiro

The Animals and Society Institute is a great organization for many reasons– one of which is their focus on providing specialized treatment for those convicted of animal abuse (their AniCare Program). Another is their long-standing focus on the interrelationships among different forms of violence.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month has just come to an end, but I wanted to share Dr. Shapiro’s latest blog post about the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence. Here is the link, and the text is below:

Paramedics initially responded to a recent report of a woman being bitten by a dog at an apartment in a dilapidated building in Queens, New York. Once there, the emergency responders witnessed a 29-year-old man physically assaulting his 28-year-old female partner. Police found evidence of animal cruelty and danger to four children, ages 7-11.

According to news reports, the children were placed in temporary custody in the city’s Administration for Children Services. The City Animal Care and Control removed and are caring for five dogs, 10 puppies, two boa constrictors and a lizard from the home.

Neighbors stated that they had called the police on several occasions to report that the couple was fighting but that the police had not responded. The landlord reported that the tenants owed him several thousand dollars for past rent and damages to the apartment.

As we near the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we return to a topic with which readers of the ASI Diary are familiar – the relationships between human violence and animal abuse. The above account of a recent incident illustrates several points worth noting.

Domestic violence and animal abuse typically occur in a dysfunctional family system. That system is complex, interweaving many factors and conditions: legal, cultural, economic, familial, intrapersonal and constitutional.

The relationships between human violence and animal abuse often are patterned in the form of a vicious cycle. Animal abuse is frequently used as a controlling device in dysfunctional domestic relationships. Abused animals are more likely to be aggressive toward humans. Children who are abused are more likely to abuse animals. Children who witness animal abuse or domestic violence are more likely to themselves to abuse animals and to bully classmates and future human partners. They are also prone to anxiety symptoms similar to those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder. 

These several intra- and extra-generational and -species relationships and others in the literature help explain the intransigence of violence and the necessity of dealing with it on various levels: educational, legal and psychotherapeutic, among others.

One other interesting point in the present incident is particularly telling for the issue of domestic violence. According to several newspaper accounts of the New York incident, the authorities failed to respond to earlier reports of domestic violence but did respond to the “dog bites woman” call for help. Apparently, despite considerable progress in the past few decades in recognizing domestic violence as a serious public health and legal issue, aggressive animals are considered a greater threat than aggressive humans. This is a disservice to the victims of domestic violence and a bad rap for the animals.

– Ken Shapiro

Such important food for thought– and for action!

“Allow pets in domestic violence shelters”- editorial

A great editorial piece in the The Register Citizen (Connecticut):


Why do victims of domestic violence stay in an abusive situation? According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, as many as 40 percent say that it’s in part due to “fear of what would happen if they left their pets behind.” It is common for an abuser to threaten to hurt or kill a beloved animal.

We know how strong the emotional bond between people and their pets can be. It is so strong that in far too many instances, women and men are putting themselves and their children at risk of physical and emotional abuse because of it.

Most pet owners look at the animal as a family member, so leaving that pet behind would be much like abandonment to them. Leaving them to the care of a person who has already acted out violently toward humans.

Across the country, a simple solution is in the works. Domestic violence shelters are beginning to accept pets.

“As we witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, pets are members of the family and no one should have to make the impossible decision to leave them behind during times of crisis,” said Nathaniel Fields, president of the Urban Resource Institute, which recently created 10 pet-friendly apartments in a Brooklyn domestic abuse shelter.

There are similar shelters in 25 states, but surprisingly, this is the first and only one in New York City, and the Humane Society of the United States lists none in Connecticut.

It costs money to open up separate living spaces that can accommodate animals, but government and charitable dollars directed at domestic violence prevention would be well-spent on addressing this problem.

In a culture where, according to the American Pet Products Association, more than $55 billion will be spent on pet care and products this year, there should be an opportunity for the charities that run domestic violence shelters to raise funds to help the pets of these victims.

Add to that, pets can help in the healing process, as medical professionals increasingly look to pet therapy to lessen the effects of depression. Victims of abuse clearly have much emotional healing to deal with. Having their beloved four-legged family members at their side can obviously help that process.

What is “the link”?


In order to get a handle on what the problem is, and how we might start to work against violence in our neighbourhoods, cities, and province, it is helpful to have an understanding of one of the main concepts I’ll be writing about: “the link”. The National Link Coalition (http://nationallinkcoalition.org/) has a great website with many resources, and here is what they have to say about “the link”:

Animal abuse, cruelty and neglect are often considered isolated incidents wholly separated from other forms of family violence. Today, professionals involved with victims of family violence are not surprised when they learn that often these acts are linked, and that various agencies are working with the same families. They no longer excuse animal cruelty as “boys will be boys” or “it was only a cat.” Instead, they see animal abuse as a sentinel indicator,  “the tip of the iceberg” and often the first sign of other family and community violence. Intentional abuse in any form should be taken seriously. Knowing that there is a Link, agencies involved in preventing family violence need to work together for a more effective, species-spanning response.

How are they linked?

Once caseworkers in any of the four fields begin to look for it, they often find other forms of family violence co-occurring. These can include:

Domestic violence and child abusers may kill, harm or threaten animals to exert dominance and power over their victims and to show them what could happen to them. In this way, animal abuse silences domestic violence and sexual abuse victims, is a serious risk to pets, and is a significant barrier that prevents them from leaving violent relationships.

When children are cruel to animals it is not necessarily an exploratory stage of development; it could be the earliest stages of conduct disorder, a gang initiation ritual, an act of revenge, peer pressure, or a way for an abused child who feels powerless to exert control over his or her own victim and gain a sense of power. Exposing children to animal cruelty may desensitize them against all forms of violence.

Senior citizens in particular may be at risk of not being able to care for their animals adequately, of neglecting themselves in order to care for their pets, of being exploited by those who would take advantage of their attachment to pets, or of keeping too many animals in inhumane hoarding conditions.

Update: a reader has posted a link to his thorough, engaging explanation of “the link” (see “Comments” below. Here is it again: http://acestoohigh.com/2013/03/26/the-inextricable-link-animal-abuse-domestic-violence-child-abuse-elder-abuse/