Examining the Nexus between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse in a National Sample of Service Providers

Article excerpt

Companion animals play a complex role in families impacted by violence. An outlet of emotional support for victims, the family pet often becomes a target for physical abuse. Results from a comprehensive e-survey of domestic violence shelters nationwide (N 5 767) highlight both improvements and existing gaps in service provision for domestic violence victims and their pets. Quantitative and qualitative data noted frequently encountered obstacles to successful shelter seeking by abuse victims with companion animals including a lack of availability, funding, space, and reliable programming. Although results indicate an overall improvement in organizational awareness, fewer than half of surveyed shelters include intake questions about animals. Continued awareness and an expansion of services is needed to create viable safety planning strategies and reliable alternatives for women with companion animals in order to improve the likelihood that abuse victims will seek escape and refuge for themselves, their children, and their pets.

Keywords: family violence; pets; shelters; trauma

Although there is growing recognition of the inextricable link between family violence and animal abuse, coordinated service provision for victims and their companion animals1 remains largely absent (Ascione, 2008; Long, Long, & Kulkarni, 2007). Social services in the United States have typically employed a strategy of compartmentalization, separating victimization by type, resulting in discipline-specific training, investigation, reporting practices, and service provision with limited interagency coordination. Violence, however, is rarely a unidimensional, isolated act. More often, violent incidents within the family are intertwined as part of a spiraling cycle of violence and abuse. Understanding and addressing the complex relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is essential to providing meaningful strategies for victim protection (for both humans and animals), offender apprehension, and violence prevention. The current investigation examines key aspects of this problem previously identified in Ascione, Weber, and Wood's (1997a) landmark publication by presenting results from a comprehensive e-survey of a large national sample of domestic violence shelters. This work updates the original data and provides a more current perspective from shelter staff. More specifically, we address several questions similar to Ascione et al. (1997a) regarding shelter services and the overlap between domestic violence and animal abuse, whether women and children seeking shelter services mention animal abuse, and whether shelters collect information about animal abuse as part of their intake protocol.


Companion animals occupy a precarious role across the spectrum of family violence, both as an additional target of violence and as an added tool in the abuser's arsenal of isolation and control. The concurrence of animal abuse and neglect with other forms of family violence has been consistently documented by responders and service providers, yet understudied in extant literature (Allen, 1998; Allen, Gallagher, & Jones, 2006; Ascione, 1999, 2008; Ascione & Arkow, 1999; Ascione et al., 2007; Ascione et al., 1997a; Boat, 2002; Fitzgerald, 2005; Loring & Bolden-Hines, 2004; Loring, Geffner, & Marsh, 2007; Squires, 2000; Stevens, 2000; Volant, Johnson, Gullone, & Coleman, 2008). Most recently, Ascione et al. (2007) found that women seeking relief in domestic violence shelters were 11 times more likely than a comparable community sample to report their partners had hurt or killed their companion animal. Today, companion animals are frequently regarded as family members. When victims of abuse flee a violent situation, they are faced with the daunting task of not only finding shelter for themselves and their dependent children, but also for their pets. …