Recognizing the Relationship between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Recommendations for Change to the Texas Legislature

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

A woman left the battered women's shelter where she had been staying to return to her abusive husband.1 She decided to leave the shelter after receiving pictures of her husband cutting off her dog's ears with gardening shears.2 He sent the ears too.3 In another family, Jamie O'Farrell forced his girlfriend's daughter, Christine, to watch as he repeatedly punched his dog, Princess, in the face and kicked her across the room for chewing on his telephone, mini-blinds, and pornographic magazines.4 O'Farrell said that it was "what you do to dogs or kids who don't do what they are supposed to."5 Later, O'Farrell again forced Christine to watch as he punched and kicked Rocko, a friend's dog.6 O'Farrell also threw bottles at the dog so that they broke and cut Rocko's face and body.7 That time, he used the abuse to threaten Christine. He told her that if she ever reported his sexual abuse of her, he would do the same to Dusty, her beloved dog.8 When a different woman left her husband, she was unable to take her pet with her.9 After the pet died a few months later, the woman woke up to find the frozen body of her pet, soaked in gasoline and set on fire, hanging in a tree outside her new home.10 In a final example, Mary J. shot her abusive husband as he entered their home one day because he was going to force her to hold down another puppy while he had sex with it.11

These true stories have common characteristics. Each has a batterer; each has victims. These stories are different from many common domestic violence12 accounts in that the victims include not only wives, girlfriends,13 and children, but also animals. Although research has continued to show that there is a high correlation between incidents of domestic violence and incidents of animal abuse,14 Texas legislation does not reflect it.

This note provides background on the relationship between domestic violence and animal cruelty in order to persuade the reader that Texas law and domestic violence protocol should reflect the possibility, and importance, of animal abuse in order to provide adequate assistance to battered women. Part II of this note addresses the psychology of person and animal abuse, including the motivations of batterers, effects of witnessing person and/or animal abuse, and how a woman's decision to leave her batterer is influenced by abuse of her pet. Part III discusses current legislation in Texas with brief reference to the laws of other states. This section also offers recommendations for amendments to Texas laws and family violence protocol. There is particular emphasis on laws relating to protective orders, animal cruelty, and the possibility of interagency communication.

II. Psychology of Abuse: Motivations and Effects

A. Pets as Family Members

Pet owners in the United States spent $36.3 billion on their pets in 2005; it is estimated that in 2006 the figure will climb to $38.4 billion.15 Furthermore, out of the over 600 pet cemeteries in the United States, 400 are active businesses.16 To understand how animal abuse affects victims of domestic violence, one must recognize that, while pets are legally defined as personal property,17 pet owners more commonly view them as family members.18 One study showed that ninety-nine percent of cat and dog owners thought of their pets as members of their family." In San Francisco's Marina district, for instance, dog owners make appointments for their dogs to see masseurs and acupuncturists, sit for portraits, and have their future read by astrologers.20 Local businesses cater to the "young, single, 'doggie' crowd" with products like specialty dog biscuits.21 The bond between domestic violence victims and their pets may be even more pronounced than with ordinary pet owners22 because it is common for batterers to isolate their victims from any human friends or family members.23 A pet may take on the companionship role that human family or friends normally fill due to this isolation. …