Domestic Violence and Your Pet

Batterers hurt both humans and animals. How to find help if you and your pet are at risk.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #36

It goes without saying that everyone has the right to be safe at home. Sadly, many people live with a violent partner, parent, or roommate. Those who terrorize their human companions often hurt companion animals as well, or threaten them as leverage to keep the human victim from leaving. This week, the links between human and animal abuse, and where you can get help.

Abusers Hurt Animals as Well as People

The American Humane Association, whose mission is to protect both children and animals, offers statistics that suggest the extent to which humans and their companion animals suffer abuse together. The information in this podcast comes largely from their website and from that of the Humane Society of the United States.

Surveys of battered women have found around 70 percent of them reporting that their pets were also victimized. In one survey, the abuser hurt the animals in the women’s presence 87 percent of the time, and in front of the children 75 percent of the time. Many women stay with their abusers because they can’t protect pets or other animals if they leave. Some report living in their cars for months on end rather than leave their animals behind. Perhaps the saddest statistic of all reflects the fact that kids emulate the behavior they see at home: a third of the women in one survey said their children had hurt or killed animals, too.

The Tip of the Iceberg?

How accurate are these figures? In my research, I found that many of the relevant studies are over a decade old, and by their nature surveys can’t reflect a random sample of domestic violence victims. I haven’t found any studies of male victims. Those who stay at home, never daring to leave or say a word to anybody --well, we can’t know what’s going on for them. It seems reasonable to think that victims who don’t leave may be even worse off than those who do.

What to Do If You Are a Victim of Domestic Abuse

If you’re a victim of domestic abuse and you’re afraid to leave because you don’t think you can protect your pets, have hope. Links and phone numbers for the resources I suggest appear at the bottom of this page.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).