Domestic Abuse and Harm to Family Pets

Many women and children are forced to stay with violent partners because they feel they can’t leave their pets behind. In some instances violent partners are also violent towards the family pets. Research shows that there is a link between animal abuse and domestic abuse where violent perpetrators could threaten to harm or actually kill a beloved pet in order to intimidate their partner, therefore maintaining their power and control.

What do Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse Accomplish by Harming Animals?

A violent perpetrator will use whatever there is in the home to maintain power and control over their partner and children. It stands to reason if there are pet animals, they will use them in the same way.

For example, by harming a pet, a violent perpetrator can re-enforce a sense of terror in their partner and children, they may not need to do anything else to demonstrate their power. By hurting a pet they are demonstrating what they are capable of.

If the perpetrator kills the pet they are destroying a source of comfort and support for the family by cutting them off from the unconditional love of a pet which can add to their feelings of isolation and despair.

If a pet is left in the home when a family goes into a refuge, the perpetrator may choose to harm the pet to re-enforce the fear that if they are not in the home then their pets are not safe.

We must never forget that by threatening to harm a much loved pet, a child’s slience can be bought by an abuser, e.g. ‘If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your kitten.’

Paws for Kids is a domestic abuse charity providing a pet foster care service for pets of families escaping domestic abuse in North West England.

Paws for Kids have identified a significant link between abuse against humans and animal abuse. The ‘link’ is illustrated in the results from a questionnaire given by Paws for Kids to service users of their pet fostering service.

The following paragraphs are a summary of the information gathered from the returned questionnaires.

There are two questions asked in the questionnaire that often give disturbing answers,

1. Before coming to the refuge did your abuser threaten to or actually harm your pet?

2. If you had children at home, did they see or hear this?

46% of respondents indicated that their partners had threatened to harm their pets.

29% of respondents indicated their partners had harmed their pets.

81% of respondents had children and 41% of children in these familes had witnessed threats or violence towards their much loved pet.

For many people who need to leave violent relationships, the options open to them regarding the care of their pets is very limited. Manchester Women’s Aid will support any women who are coming into our refuge to find alternative care for their pet through referrals to the organisations listed below.

Paws for Kids Pet Fostering Service, 01204 394 842 (select option 1)
This organisation covers North West England including Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire.

For families entering a refuge outside of the North West you may be able to get help with pet fostering from one of the following organisations.

Dogs Trust Freedom Project, 0800 083 4322

Dogs Trust Freedom Project, 0800 298 0919

Woodgreen Liberty Project, 01480 832 823 (ext 261)
(Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Warwickshire)

Pet Retreat RSPCA 0300 123 8278/077150540182
(Please telephone to confirm areas as the service continues to expand)

The Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, 01825 880 478
(Kent and East and West Sussex)

Manchester Women’s Aid would like to thank Paws for Kids for assisting with production of this webpage.