The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence

Stefanie Wilson
J.D. Candidate 2014, UCI Law

On February 5, 2014, the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund partnered with the cast and crew of the Vagina Monologues to raise funds for a local shelter that provides temporary housing for pets of victims of domestic violence. By selling delicious and delightfully-monikered baked goods (Pumpkin Poonani Cake or Lavender Douche Scone anyone?), we raised $206! Thank you to the UCI Law Community for your generosity and support.

But why did this beautiful partnership between SALDF and VagMos form? Because of the close link between domestic violence and animal cruelty: batterers often use pets as instruments in the cycle of violence.  Pets may be given as gifts to the battered partner, often in the reconciliation/calm phases of domestic violence.[1]  Then the batterer may abuse or even kill the cherished pet as a means of controlling and inflicting psychological violence against their partners and children.

Domestic violence survivor, Marsha Millikin, shares her story:

He opened the car door and ordered my daughter Christine to kick our dog Dusty out.  When she refused, he told her . . . she could watch while he tortured and killed Dusty and dumped her off the side of the road, too.  Then he said he would come home and kill me and Christine would be left alone with him.  He raped Christine her first night alone in our new home while I was at work. She had just turned eight.

In a video that you can watch on YouTube, another survivor, Tanya McLeod, describes how her ex-husband bought her a puppy, whom Tanya named Brownie, and then used Brownie to control and terrorize her.

Statistics[2] about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty also support Tanya and Marsha’s stories:

  • Including a screening question about animal cruelty on a domestic violence crisis line resulted in an 80% decrease in domestic violence homicides
  • A history of pet abuse is one of the four most significant indicators of who is at greatest risk of becoming a batterer
  • Twelve studies have reported that 18% to 48% of battered women delay leaving abusive situations out of fear for the safety of their animals
  • 71% of battered women said their partners harmed, killed or threatened pets.  75% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women to control them
  • Children exposed to domestic violence were three times more likely to be cruel to animals
  • 48% of battered women reported that animal abuse had occurred “often” during the past year

Animal Cruelty is also strongly associated with other forms of violent crime, especially sexual assault. An Australian study of the criminal histories of convicted animal abusers concluded that a history of animal abuse was a better predictor of sexual assault than were previous convictions for homicide, arson, or firearms offenses.[3]

Here are more compiled facts about the link between animal cruelty and other crime:[4]

  • In a 1997 study in Massachusetts, 70% of animal abusers had criminal records including crimes of violence, property, drugs, or disorderly behavior
  • In a 2002 Australian study, 61.5% of animal abuse offenders had also committed and assault; 17% had committed sexual abuse.  All sexual homicide offenders reported having been cruel to animals.  Sexual assault, domestic violence, and firearms offenses featured prominently in [animal] cruelty offenders’ criminal histories
  • 48% of rapists and 30% of child molesters committed animal abuse in childhood or adolescence[5]

As Tanya McCleod says, “Animal abuse and domestic violence go hand in hand.  If anyone is listening and gets that there is a distinct connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, then we have begun the process of ending domestic violence.”

For more information about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty, please visit the National Link Coalition website.

Please attend UCI Law’s Vagina Monologues performances, Feb. 14-15, 2014 8 PM. Tickets are on sale here and selling out quickly! If you cannot attend, please consider donating.

For more information about the Vagina Monologues and V-Day, click here.

Finally, if you are interested in this issue, please come to SALDF’s lunchtime talk with the San Bernardino Animal Cruelty Task Force on February 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM in EDU 1111. The talk will focus on the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, how to facilitate cross-reporting between shelters, social workers, and law enforcement, and what lawyers who provide services to victims of domestic violence can do to also help the animal victims of abuse. Food will be provided!

This article originally was published as a post for SALDF’s blog.


[2] National Link Coalition, Understanding the Link, available at http://nationallinkcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/LinkSummaryBooklet-16pp.pdf

[3] Clarke, J. P. (2002). New South Wales police animal cruelty research project. Sydney, Australia: New South Wales Police Service.

[4] National Link Coalition, Understanding the Link, available at http://nationallinkcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/LinkSummaryBooklet-16pp.pdf

[5] Tingle, D.G., Barnard, G.W., Robbins, L., Newman, G., & Hutchinson, D. (1986). Childhood and adolescent characteristics of pedophiles and rapists. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 9, 103-116.

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