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BCIFV home > Newsletter > 2002 Archives > Winter 2002 articles

Exploring the Links Between Animal Abuse and Family Violence

By Sue McIntosh

Few people deny the bond which can exist between a person and an animal, and the positive impact this relationship can have upon that personís physical and emotional well-being.

Unfortunately, the human-animal bond also has a darker side, as intimate partner abuse, child abuse and animal abuse often co-occur. Further, a childís violence towards animals often indicates future violence toward people.

Given these links, many human and animal welfare organizations work together to detect and prevent violence and abuse. However, Albertan organizations lacked local data regarding the extent of these connections to support and guide their initiatives. Thus, with support and guidance from Leslie Tutty of RESOLVE, Gonzaga University, the Calgary Humane Society, the YWCA Family Violence Prevention Centre and Sheriff King Home, and the Brenda Strafford Centre for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the researcher initiated a research study to collect the required data.

Through a survey process, 100 women entering two Calgary womenís shelters, Sheriff King and Brenda Strafford, provided information about the nature and extent of animal abuse in their homes and in their abuserís childhood.

Of the 65 women who reported owning pets, 25% delayed entering the shelter due to concern for their petís safety and 56% stated the abuser either threatened, hurt and/or killed a pet. Of the 60 respondents with both children and pets, 27% stated their children had been overly rough, had hurt and/or killed a pet. And over 20% of respondents were aware that their partner had abused animals as a child. One respondent reported that her partner shot the family dog in plain view of their four year old son. She later notes that her son shows similar traits and has total disregard towards life, even humans." Another respondent stated: "(When) he killed a cat, he told me it was like an electric charge going through his body...".

These results are consistent with prior research in the US and Ontario, further confirming that animal abuse and family violence co-exist, with implications regarding the dynamics of animal abuse within family violence situations, and the seriousness of children abusing animals. Looking forward, this research provides a foundation for Alberta human service and animal welfare organizations to collaborate in detecting and preventing violence and abuse.

Sue McIntosh, MA, CCC is a counsellor with a private practice in Animal Assisted Therapy and Equine Facilitated Counselling. Sue partners with a number of Alberta organizations on programs and research exploring various aspects of the human-animal bond. You can reach Sue at (403) 637-2053 or by e-mail at [email protected].

This article is reprinted with permission of the author from RESOLVE News, Volume 3, #3.