Understanding The Link Between Violence Towards Animals and People

* Child Abuse * Elder Abuse *

* Domestic Violence * Animal Abuse *

Check out a fascinating new document, a downloadable .pdf – Understanding The Link Between Violence Towards Animals and People – A Guidebook for Criminal Justice Professionals by Allie Phillips of the NDAA and ASPCA.

If, like me, you’re fed up with hearing ‘boys will be boys’, ‘it was only a cat’ and similar phrases, which only encourage violence and its acceptance, read this document to find research and arguments to make the change.

There’s 84 pages of inspiration. Perhaps a few too many for most people. So I thought I’d *yoink* the best bits and collate them here. I’m not going to spend ages compiling a coherent precis, but hopefully you’ll find some of the guts of the document that might inspire you to read the whole thing.

Animal cruelty is no longer seen as occurring in a vacuum but rather as part of individual and/or familial dysfunction, psychopathy, and emotional abuse.

It is no longer considered socially acceptable because “boys will be boys” or “it was only a cat,” but rather as a serious crime within the larger context of antisocial, aggressive behaviors. ~ Phil Arkow, Coordinator National Link Coalition

It’s so difficult to decide what to include and I’m aware this info is still, perhaps, unwieldy. But I hope you’ll be able to skim read and find snippets that encourage you to head over to the complete document, and read more. Please forgive me for typos – there’s too much here to check!

Here goes …

Note: Throughout this publication, “animal abuse” is generally used as the overall broad term to describe all forms of crimes towards animals; “animal cruelty” is used to describe intentional criminal conduct towards animals; and “animal neglect” is used to describe negligent acts and/or failing to provide adequate care for animals.

Many people don’t realise that ‘neglect’ is ‘abuse’. The guy next door who leaves his dog chained all day, every day, come rain or shine – he’s an abuser. This document links animal abuse with other forms of abuse. If you don’t report his neglect you’re enabling his other forms of violence also. Always report animal abuse in all its forms.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I say: “The safety and wellbeing of children and adults can be judged by the way their animals are treated — and how this information is shared among the professionals involved.”

Keeping in mind this is an American publication:

The progress in this field has been remarkable.

• Peer-reviewed studies document the toxic impact of exposure to violence, including violence to animals, as an Adverse Childhood Experience with long-term effects on the developing brain and subsequent poor health outcomes.
• Child abuse and elder abuse and neglect have been demonstrated to be correlates of animal cruelty.
• Domestic violence programs are beginning to query about pets and provide shelter for at-risk families and their pets.
• Child protective services workers, adult protective services worker and animal control officers link their observations when performing home visits because they know that where animals are at risk, people often are at risk and vice versa.
• Veterinarians are being trained in forensic pathology to determine cause of death and preservation of evidence for prosecution purposes.
• Law enforcement officers are educated about the often-extensive histories of crimes against society committed by persons who also abuse animals.
• Medical and mental health personnel are beginning to address the traumatic impact of dog bites as well as the connection between dog bites and physical abuse.
• Prosecutors are putting increased emphasis on animal abuse crimes because they understand that the behavior that harms the animal is the same behavior that harms humans. (pvii)

All professionals who encounter abused people or abused animals must champion the Link and work collaboratively to be truly effective in mitigating the devastating personal and societal costs of violence. This Guidebook on the Link is designed to help achieve that goal.


When someone harms an animal, the important question to ask is, “Who will be next?”

What is the Link?

The Link consists of the coexistence of two or more of these intra-familial crimes: child abuse (including physical and sexual abuse) or neglect, domestic violence (including stalking and rape), elder abuse or neglect (including financial exploitation), and animal abuse or neglect (including sexual assault, animal fighting and hoarding). The Link also includes the co-occurrence of animal abuse with other types of crime, such as homicide, weapons offenses, drug offenses, sexual assault, arson, assault or other violent crimes.

Taking animal abuse as seriously as crimes against humans is important for the upholding of existing animal protection laws and protecting animal victims, but also for the following reasons:

• Animal abuse presents a risk of child abuse
• Animal violence may predict future violence
• Animal abuse is used to threaten human victims
• Animal abuse is used to prevent families from leaving the abusive home
• The co-occurrence of multiple forms of violence increases future violence.

The Importance of the Link

It is important to understand the Link for the following reasons, which will be explored in detailed throughout this Guidebook:

• Abuse and neglect of animals, children, and adults is a crime.
• Harm to animals is a predictor crime of harm towards people.
• Harm to animals is an indicator crime of other violence going on in the home.
• Harm to animals destabilizes communities and contributes to overall lack of safety.

Those who understand this linkage of crimes towards animals and people are in a better position to prevent future violence and protect their communities.

Domestic Violence and The Link

A 2012 study from New Zealand explored the reasons why companion animals are harmed in intra-familial violence (Roguski, 2012). The study focused on animals abused during and after an abusive relationship and found these factors:

Cruelty to animals during the abusive relationship

  • Abusing animals creates a culture of normalized violence while harming people
  • Abusers gain a perverse satisfaction from hurting pets, often pets not in the home, which was not anger related but often done to instill fear in the family
  • Abusing the animals as punishment for unwanted behavior from people
  • Abusing animals out of jealousy of the relationship between the animal and human victims
  • Abusing animals as a threat to keep the humans in the home and to show intolerance for misbehaving by people
  • Animals caught in the cross fire of violence towards people
  • Abusing animals to avoid police intervention (which was more likely to occur with human violence) because they felt police did not care about animal abuse crimes
  • Animals used as sexual objects as a form of power and control over the human victims

Cruelty to animals after the abusive relationship ended

  • Threats to harm the animal(s) left behind
  • Actual harm to animals left behind as punishment for the person leaving
  • Harm to the animals of friends and family out of retaliation for the person leaving

Child Abuse and The Link

“Teaching a child empathy and compassion and returning him to a toxic environment is like cleaning an oiled bird and returning it to the muck.” — Dr. Randall Lockwood (ASPCA)

Facts and Figures

• In 2012, approximately 678,000 children were substantiated as abused or neglected stemming from 3.4 million reports/referrals, and an estimated 1,640 children died from abuse or neglect (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2013).
• Neglect is the most common form of child abuse (78% of cases), followed by physical abuse (18% of cases) then sexual abuse (9% of cases) (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2013).
• Over 80% of child abuse/neglect perpetrators are parents (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2013).
• One of the first studies to address the Link between child abuse and animal abuse discovered that 88% of homes with physically abused children also included abuse or neglect of the family pet (DeViney, Dickert & Lockwood, 1983).
• One study found that 62% to 76% of animal cruelty in the home occurs in front of children (Faver & Strand, 2003). And where studies have shown that children have been found to intervene to protect their mothers from being battered (Edelson, Mbilinyi, Beeman & Hagemeister, 2003),anecdotal evidence shows that some children may even allow themselves to be victimized to save their pets from being harmed or killed.
• A 2009 study focusing on the interconnection of animal cruelty, child abuse, and domestic violence found that nearly half of the participants suffered at least one form of violence during childhood and that victims of family violence were more likely to experience animal cruelty. Witnessing animal cruelty was the largest predictor of future violence by the witness, who was more than eight times more likely to subsequently become a perpetrator of violence. The study determined that when the witnessing of animal cruelty interacts with child maltreatment or exposure to domestic violence, the risk of animal cruelty increases; when domestic violence was limited to the most severe cases, exposed individuals were more likely to have witnessed animal abuse; and animal abuse perpetration was also associated with higher rates of child neglect (DeGue & DiLillo, 2009).
• In one study of battered women with children who sought shelter in a safe house, 32% reported that their children had hurt or killed a family pet (Ascione, 1998).
• Children who are exposed to domestic violence are nearly three times more likely to be cruel to animals than children who are not exposed to such violence (Currie, 2006).
• A 2007 study found that 67% of children residing in family violence shelters reported witnessing abuse of their family pet, almost 60% of children were very upset about the harm to their pet(s), and 37% of the shelter children progressed to harming or killing pets (Ascione et al., 2007).
• A 2011 study found a connection between a child witnessing animal abuse and subsequently engaging in animal abuse and bullying behavior (Gullone, 2011).
• Frequent spanking of 3-year-olds was associated with higher levels of child aggression when the child was 5, including temper tantrums and lashing out physically against other people and animals (Taylor, et al., 2010).
• Children who are physically punished more frequently before adolescence are more likely to abuse animals (Flynn, 1999).
• Animal cruelty committed by children is often symptomatic of future abuse of other animals or people (Boat, 1999) and one study revealed that 37% of boys and 29% of girls who were victims of physical and sexual abuse and domestic violence were reported to abuse their family pet (Ascione, 2005).
• Significant research has documented a relationship between childhood histories of animal cruelty and patterns of chronic interpersonal aggression (Kellert & Felthous, 1985; Hensley & Tallichet, 2005; Merz-Perez, Heide & Silverman, 2001; Becker & French, 2004).

Youth Crimes and The Link

“The prosecution of cases involving juvenile animal abuse offenders can be challenging and emotionally daunting for prosecutors. Many youth who commit acts of animal cruelty were exposed to violence early in their childhood. This early exposure to a high stress abusive environment can cause children to fail to develop empathy and to have a desire to harm other living beings. Studies have shown that 30% of children exposed to domestic violence and abuse have subsequently committed acts of animal cruelty against their pets. In addition, without intervention, these children may be unable to achieve a bright future. Studies show that youth who engaged in acts of animal cruelty between the ages of six and twelve are twice as likely to be charged in a violent juvenile delinquency offense against a human. Often court personnel are unfamiliar with how to best provide rehabilitative services for convicted youth. It is important that the prosecutor be prepared to guide the court to appropriate treatment programs that will successfully rehabilitate juvenile offenders.” — Jennifer Rallo (Assistant State’s Attorney, Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office)

Educate kids that it’s cool to report animal abuse to an adult and be the hero for a helpless animal.

“It is now understood that childhood cruelty to animals is an important predictor of later antisocial and aggressive acts and that children showing these behaviors, without intervention, are at risk for enduring disorders in conduct and mental health” (Becker & French, 2004).

Elder Abuse and The Link

A beloved pet can become an elderly person’s only family, friend, and source of comfort and companionship. This bond can be manipulated by someone abusing or exploiting the elderly person.

Sexual Assault Against Animals (Bestiality) and the Link

Bestiality has been documented in relation to crimes against people when retrospective reports of incarcerated men have been examined (Hensley, Tallichet & Singer, 2006; Simons, Wurtele & Durham, 2008). This includes the linkage to crimes against children (including child sexual assault), domestic violence, and the making of child and/or animal pornography. Studies have also informed us that some offenders force their child and adult victims to engage in bestiality (Ascione, 1993).

Animal Hoarding and the Link

Animal hoarding has been found to coincide with child neglect (dirty home, unclean clothing, inability to bathe/shower, asthma from inhaling animal urine ammonia, medical issues from insect bites and unclean living, and living among declining, dying and dead animals), elder neglect (taking in unwanted animals as extended family members when human family members may live at a distance and a spouse has passed on, inability to properly feed or provide veterinary care), and a host of animal abuse and neglect concerns.

For more information on how children are impacted by hoarding, please visit http://childrenofhoarders.com/. For more information on animal hoarding, please visit the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium.

Animal Fighting and the Link

If you think animal fighting is an innocent past-time – think again.

Animal fighting is not simply a big city crime; it is pervading all communities. It is also not solely a crime against animals; it is a crime against society. What was once a cultural past time for some is now a felony in all 50 [American] states. Animal fighting is not only a barbaric and cruel event that results in animals tearing each other apart until a winner is declared (and the loser is often killed or is tossed away to die a slow and painful death), it is connected to a host of other crimes: gambling, physical assaults, sexual assaults, child abuse, domestic violence, drug use, illegal weapons, extortion, arson, racketeering, and so on.

As animal fighting ventures pervade our communities, children are not immune to witnessing and participating in animal fighting events. Children and youth are being used as bet runners, to raise dogs to fight, and even to throw animals into the ring. This results in:

• Children and youth watching animals being violently killed;
• Children and youth growing up with violence;
• Children and youth being desensitized to harm and violence;
• Children and youth having lower empathy; and
• Children and youth being exposed to dog bites.

Other Violent Crimes and The Link

Those who harm, torture and kill animals for sadistic pleasure or control have few boundaries and should be considered very dangerous.

Fatal Dog Attacks on Humans

An interesting issue has been on the minds of researchers in recent years: that of fatal dog attacks on humans. Although a hot button issue, we know that dogs are not born vicious (regardless of the breed); improper socialization and/or someone makes them vicious. When investigators encounter a vicious dog in a home, it is important to examine the dynamics that made the dog vicious because studies are now identifying that fatal dog bites are linked to animal abuse.

… most dog bite-related fatalities were characterized by coincident, preventable, policy-relevant factors; the dog’s breed was not one of these.

Changing Agency Procedures

• Ask children about pets (during intake, assessment, forensic interview, medical examination) to learn more about family dynamics and who is important in the child’s life.
• Ask families seeking shelter whether there are pets (domesticated and livestock) at home whose welfare is also threatened and who need protection.
• Include registered therapy animals with children who have experienced or witnessed abuse to assist them through the court process.
• Offer frequent trainings among criminal justice agencies to cross-train on intra-familial violence.
• Set up systems to cross-report violence to the appropriate agency.
• Create a Link coalition (or add animal protection to your existing coalitions) and meet regularly.
• Create a partnership with animal protection and veterinary professionals.
• Support legislation that encourages cross-reporting (which provides for immunity from civil and criminal liability).
• Educate probation departments and judges (and legislate) for psychological evaluations and treatment with programs specialized for child and adult animal abusers (such as the AniCare model).
• Seek treatment for children who have witnessed and/or perpetrated animal abuse.
• Have family violence shelters create off-site foster care programs for pets and on-site housing of pets through Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAFT-T) Program (www.animalsandfamilies.org).
• Include pets in safety planning procedures.
• Support legislation to include pets in protection orders.

Therapy Animals for Maltreated Children

When children have been abused or have witnessed violence, having a therapy animal provides comfort and listening to their story is important for their healing and recovery. It is also beneficial to help the child disclose relevant facts to interviewers, investigators and prosecutors.


In the past decade, state laws and individual agency protocols have started to recognize that both animal and human protection agencies should make a report when a situation of abuse becomes known. While there has been some resistance to mandated cross-reporting laws or protocols, usually due to the concerns of confidentiality constraints, an existing full caseload and staff being over-burdened, agencies who are cross-reporting are seeing the benefits.

Link Coalitions

When agencies can begin to work together in a Link coalition and share information by breaking down silos on information, the response to safeguard families will be more effective.

Families Seeking Shelter with Pets

Programs to house pets of domestic violence are a solution to Link-related crimes.

Investigating Link Crimes

Any professional who is involved in gathering evidence of criminal conduct or works with survivors should always be on the lookout for evidence of multiple crimes of abuse within a home.

Asking children questions about the animals in their lives is both informational and helpful in developing rapport with the child.

“Regardless of one’s specialty or type of practice, virtually all veterinarians over the course of their careers will face the difficult situation of treating animals with conditions suspected to be the result of abuse. Veterinarians have ethical and moral responsibilities to address these situations as well as to practice in accordance with their professional oath. There is a well-documented link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence: when animals are at-risk humans are as well, and vice-versa. Thus, veterinary involvement in the identification and reporting of suspected abuse cases is necessary to protect not only the individual animal(s) involved but to also protect human health and public safety. It is critical that all veterinarians are knowledgeable on how to recognize and respond to suspected instances of abuse when they arise.” — Stephanie Janeczko, DVM, MS, DABVP, CAWA, President, Association of Shelter Veterinarians and Senior Director, Community Outreach Shelter Medicine Programs Shelter Research and Development, ASPCA

Prosecuting Link Crimes

I’m not including much here as Irish legislation is so far behind the US when it comes to animal welfare. I’m not sure how much is directly translatable.

If a prosecutor is handling a sexual abuse case in which force must be proven, some prosecutors have seen success in pre-trial arguments that the threat of violence, or actual violence, to a family pet exerts coercion on the victim to remain silent and compliant. The threats or harm to the animal can be used to prove the element of force.

Youthful Offenders

Teacher’s Pet in Michigan is one of many intervention programs that pairs at-risk youth with hard-to adopt shelter dogs for a multi-week workshop in positive-reinforcement, reward-based dog training and behavior modification in an effort to make the dogs more adoptable. The program opened in 2005 and the children are in residential facilities for committing a crime (often, but not exclusively, involving an animal). Many children come from situations that involved dog fighting. The dogs come from animal rescue and sheltering organizations and have life similarities to the children. For two days a week for two hours, the children are taught and offer positive dog training and classroom lessons to address stress management and humane treatment of animals for a total of ten weeks. There is one animal shelter staff, and one or two facilitators when the children are working with the dogs. There is no violence towards the dogs at all during the program. The program works because the children are offered the opportunity to experience empathy. They learn to treat animals in a humane way and then do the same with their peers. About 99% of the children bond to their dog and many of the kids come back to volunteer at the shelter. It’s positive for the children and it helps the dogs find new homes.

Link Case Law

Again, US specific – but has some interesting cases – best checked out in the document in full I reckon.


“One does not have to personally value companion animals to acknowledge that others may and that exploring those relationships can add much to our understanding and treatment of children and families. Recognition that animals play a significant role in the lives of many people needs further attention in social work” (Risley-Curtiss, Zilney & Hornung, 2010).

The Link is gaining recognition throughout various criminal justice professions across the country and internationally. But with high levels of turnover in many professions, the need for education and awareness continues. When all criminal justice professionals understand the dynamics underlying the Link, and have the tools available to properly address Link-related crimes, families and communities will be safer. Because it is undeniable that animal abuse is a human and community safety issue.

Related Links

Posted in Animal Cruelty, Animal Welfare Issues.