The relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence
For thousands of years, humans have enjoyed a close bond with animals. Historically, animals have helped humans meet their needs for food, clothing, entertainment, and transportation. Animals are also a source of unconditional love. Interactions with animals can help decrease our loneliness and anxiety, promote social interaction, and encourage us to get much-needed exercise.
While animals contribute significantly to our quality of life, the sad reality is that animals may also be the victims of abuse or neglect at the hands of human beings. There is a growing awareness that cruelty to animals and violence to people are closely related. Studies have found that cruelty to animals is often both an indicator and a predictor of interpersonal, family and community violence.
The connection between interpersonal violence and animal abuse — commonly referred to as “the Link” – may be seen in a variety of ways:
- when animals are being abused in the home, there is the possibility that children and adults in that home may also be at risk;
- when a child abuses animals, this may be an indicator that the child is also a victim of abuse; and
- the abuse of animals by a child may be a warning sign of possible violent behaviour later as an adult.
The Saskatchewan perspective
In order to learn more about the impact of violence on both animals and people, the Saskatchewan SPCA recently undertook a research study in partnership with STOPS to Violence and PATHS Saskatchewan. The Link: Interpersonal Violence and Abuse and Animal Safekeeping was undertaken as a way to answer to questions:
- Is the concern for the safety of companion animals and livestock a barrier to individuals leaving situations of interpersonal violence and abuse in Saskatchewan?
- Are there existing networks and supports in Saskatchewan that provide safekeeping of animals for individuals leaving situations of interpersonal violence and abuse?
Participants in the study included both human service agencies and animal welfare organizations in Saskatchewan.
- 92% of human service workers taking part in the study agreed that the care and safekeeping of animals can impact planning and decision making for individuals leaving abusive relationships.
- 77.55% of respondents from the human services sector indicated awareness of someone who did not leave an abusive relationship due to concern for the care and safekeeping of animals.
- 65% of human service agencies had received requests to help with the temporary safekeeping of animals.
Survey participants noted the many challenges faced by women who own pets or livestock when leaving situations of interpersonal violence. The study revealed that animals can be used to threaten, intimidate, and silence the victims of abuse in situations involving family violence.
Recommendations from the report
Based on the information gathered, a list of recommendations was created:
- Develop education and training workshops regarding the connection between interpersonal violence and abuse and concern for animal safekeeping to human service organizations, animal welfare agencies, and the general public.
- Establish partnerships between animal welfare agencies and human service organizations to better provide services.
- Provide information about services available for both animal welfare and human service providers in urban and rural areas.
- Train service providers in supporting individuals to plan for animal safekeeping when leaving situations of violence and abuse.
- Create a list of resources and services for animal care and safekeeping currently offered within Saskatchewan (e.g., develop a resource book, provincial registry).
- Among domestic violence services, ensure that the intake process involves asking whether or not animal abuse is occurring/has occurred within the home.
- Formulate policies among animal welfare and human service organizations, to ensure a clear understanding of what each sector is responsible for. Establishing guidelines will remove ambiguity that may arise when working together.
- Generate specific and focused action plans for individuals leaving situations of interpersonal violence and abuse who are concerned about animal care and safekeeping, in both urban and rural regions of Saskatchewan.
Read the full report here: The Link: Interpersonal Violence and Abuse and Animal Safekeeping