Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty: Untangling the Web of Abuse. (Special Section: Domestic Violence and Social Work Education)

By Faver, Catherine A.; Strand, Elizabeth B. | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty: Untangling the Web of Abuse. (Special Section: Domestic Violence and Social Work Education)


Faver, Catherine A., Strand, Elizabeth B., Journal of Social Work Education


DURING THE PAST 25 YEARS, a growing body of research has documented the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence (Lockwood & Ascione, 1998; Ascione & Arkow, 1999). As a result, some communities have formed coalitions of human service and animal welfare organizations to address the interrelated problems of woman battering, child maltreatment, and animal abuse. Yet, although the social work literature has recognized the connections between domestic violence and child abuse (e.g., Pulido, 2001; Featherstone & Trinder, 1997), the role of animals in family violence has been ignored. In light of this omission, this article has four purposes: to explain why the link between animal abuse and domestic violence merits the attention of the social work profession, to review the empirical research on the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence, to suggest relevant knowledge and skills that social workers can use to address this issue, and to offer resources for integrating this content into the social work curriculum.

Significance of the Link Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence for Social Work

Historically, social work's primary mission has been fostering human welfare through social service and social reform (Chambers, 1963). However, to promote human welfare, social workers should also attend to the plight of animals. This attention to animal abuse is important for several reasons:

1. In recent years, social work has recognized the impact of the natural environment on human welfare (Rogge, 1993). Significantly, animals are part of both the natural environment and the intimate home environments of human beings. In both contexts, the well-being of animals is inextricably connected to the well-being of their human counterparts and companions. The ecological perspective (Germain, 1991), which initially focused on transactions between people and the social environment, has expanded to include the natural environment and must embrace the significance of animals for human welfare.

2. Social work has recognized the importance of the human-animal bond to human health and well-being. Specifically, the social work literature has addressed grief after loss of pets (Quackenbush & Glickman, 1984), animal-assisted therapies (Valentine, Kiddoo, & LaFleur, 1993; Mason & Hagan, 1999), the importance of maintaining the relationship between elderly people and their pets (Hoffman, 1991; Netting & Wilson, 1987), and social work in veterinary clinic settings (Netting, Wilson, & New, 1987). Therefore, the lack of attention to the abuse of animals within the context of family violence is striking (Flynn, 2000b). Indeed, as the following literature review will demonstrate, the bond between women and their companion animals makes it possible for batterers to coerce, intimidate, and control women by abusing their pets.

3. In 2000, the 106th Congress of the United States issued a concurrent resolution encouraging federal agencies to support more research on the connection between animal abuse and interpersonal violence (H.R. Res. 338). Additionally, it urged social workers and other mental health professionals to evaluate and carefully monitor individuals who abuse animals in order to prevent violence against humans.

4. The coexistence of child maltreatment and woman battering within households has gained increasing attention in the social work literature (Pulido, 2001; Fleck-Henderson, 2000; Featherstone & Trinder, 1997; McKay, 1994). There is also evidence that animal abuse often occurs in families in which children are physically or sexually abused (Flynn, 2000b; Ascione, 1993; DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983). The link between animal abuse and woman battering completes the "circle of abuse," more commonly called the "tangled web of abuse," which must be addressed by social workers in order to intervene effectively and prevent family violence. …

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