Animal abuse has been continuously linked with other forms of criminal violence. Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses.
Animal abuse has also been linked to being a common use of control over victims in domestic violence situations.
Abuse is about power and control whether the abuse is inflicted on a partner, child, or animal. If an animal is being abused, it is likely another person in the household is also being abused. This link originates with the fact that women, children, and animals have shared similar histories and characteristics – all three were considered property in the past.
Perpetrators of domestic violence often use pets as a way to control their victims. By following through on threats to injure or kill a pet shows the victim that the abuser is willing to kill an animal and that he may also kill the victim. Abuse of the pet is also used to manipulate a partner or child into compliance with the abuser’s demands. Abuse against a family pet can also be used to frighten, intimidate, punish, or retaliate against a partner or child. A recent study questioned the inhabitants of the largest battered women’s shelters in forty-eight states about their experience with domestic violence, child abuse, and animal abuse. When asked if women who come into the shelter talk about incidents of pet abuse, 85 percent of the forty-eight shelters answered affirmatively. Moreover, 63 percent out of forty-six of the shelters answered affirmatively when asked if children who come into your shelter talk about incidents of pet abuse. Because of health code regulations, lack of space, and safety concerns, women are often not allowed to bring their pets to the shelter when they leave their abuser. The victim has the difficult decision to either leave the pet with the abuser, stay with the abuser to protect the pet, or abandon the pet. As a result, it is estimated that as many as 40 percent of women postpone leaving their abuser because of fear of what will happen to their pet if they leave.
The abuse of the pet can have vast, long-term effects on the well-being of children. Certainly, not all children who abuse animals or witness abuse will grow up to be abusers or commit violent offenses. However, witnessing the abuse of both their mothers and pets increases the chance of a child adjusting poorly to life as they get older. Additionally, children who are raised in an abusive environment learn that violence is a way to solve problems. Children who witness or are victims of domestic violence may learn to abuse pets as a way of releasing anger or distress. In a study of abusive households with pets, it was found that in 32 percent of these homes, the children abused their pets.
Now that the link between animal abuse and other violent crime has been established, animal abuse has been becoming more of a priority for law enforcement and lawmakers. All 50 states have made animal abuse illegal and 47 states treat certain forms of animal abuse as a felony.
Many jurisdictions have established cross-training for social service and animal control agencies on how to recognize the signs of abuse and possible indicators of other abusive behaviors. Some states have also added veterinarians, Humane Society, and animal-control officers to mandated reporting legislation requiring them to report suspected animal abuse. Although major strides have been made in understanding the connection between animal abuse and other violent behavior, there is still work to be done. Currently, animal abuse is not monitored systematically in national crime reporting systems. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence supports the need for early intervention in the childhood development of criminal behavior. Research has shown that early intervention efforts are proving to be effective in reducing criminal and delinquent behavior. The issues that these prevention programs address are similar to those found to be associated with domestic violence and child abuse. The contribution of family violence to later youth violence is clear. This overlap shows the overwhelming need for collaborative prevention efforts between social services, law enforcement, and the community. Understanding the link between animal abuse and family violence can help every criminal justice partner break the cycle of violence, saving both human and animal victims.