When a person experiences violence in a relationship, it is scary, exhausting, humiliating, and ultimately life-threatening. Pet owners facing domestic violence may also find their pets targeted as a way to further induce pain and suffering and inflict control. Sadly, it is common for victims to endure ongoing abuse rather than seek safety if that safety means abandoning their animals.

The link between animal welfare and domestic violence has been firmly established, and the research is startling. The grim statistics include:

  • As many as 48% of battered women delay leaving abusive situations because they worry what will happen to their pets (Ascione, 2007)

  • 71% of pet-owning women entering a shelter reported that their husband or boyfriend killed, harmed, or threatened an animal (Ascione, 1998)

  • 13% of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence (Humane Society of the United States, 2001)

  • Between 25% - 48% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets and livestock (Arkow, 2008)

  • Abusers kill, harm, or threaten children’s pets to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force them to remain silent about abuse (Lour, 1999)

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What Social Workers and Their Agencies Can Do

In New York City, cases often come to light only when pets are killed and the stories make the news. It is important not to overlook animal welfare, because pets are often targeted first and families may not be willing to seek help unless their pets can also escape a violent situation.

Recognizing animal welfare in domestic violence situations is crucial to protecting the whole family and helping pet owners and their animals to safety. Social workers can intervene by:

Domestic violence agencies can further recognize this issue in the following ways:

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