She stayed in an abusive relationship because he threatened to hurt or worse, kill her beloved dog.
It’s called pet abuse and it’s a very real thing. It’s an area of family domestic violence that is little known or talked about.
According to the 2018 NCIWR research report, Pet Abuse as part of Intimate Partner Violence, 53% of women surveyed, delayed leaving family violence out of fear for their pet’s safety. In addition, 23% had an animal killed by their partner.
Being hit, punched, kicked, thrown, hung, verbally abused, choked, shook and starved are just a few examples of pet abuse.
“Approximately 90% of threats and actual harm to a pet or other animal were made by partners.” (Roguski, 2012, p. 39). In order to control their victim, perpetrators create fear in the home where the victim reluctantly stays in order to prevent or minimize the risk of harm, injury or death to their family pet.
Living in a domestic violence environment is as emotionally damaging for a child as it is for an animal. Like a child, an animal exhibits fearful behaviors such as acting out; escaping; hiding under the bed; nervousness; incontinence; hyper vigilance; staying close to the victim; being aggressive to the perpetrator and depression. Whether the direct target of abuse or a witness to loved ones being abused; animals are also victims in this violent environment.
The 2018 NCIWR study reports 22% of children witnessed pet abuse. Walter-Moss et al (2005) state that exposure to pet abuse increases the risk of children becoming victims or abusers. Furthermore, a seven-year study across three metropolitan areas found that abusing animals was a significant factor for predicting future abusive behavior.
So, why didn’t she leave?
A more revealing answer to this question is the research finding that “73% of respondents would have found it easier to leave if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their pets” (Jury et al, 2018).
Women Refuges around New Zealand don’t accept pets and not being able to take their beloved pet with them to safety, is the barrier to leaving. It’s an enormous responsibility for women to secure the safety for themselves, their children and their pets. She and her children can move to a women’s refuge but not their pet and a decision to leave them behind is unbearable.
At the time of writing, New Zealand’s first pet refuge opened its doors a few weeks ago in Auckland. It aims to provide a safe haven for the pets of those who are leaving an abusive relationship. This service is a game changer. Having their beloved pet in a safe undisclosed location, victims are freed up to complete their relocation. Moreover, a personal welfare plan for each animal; medical services and a state-of-art refuge in a quiet peaceful location can aid the recovery of an animal that has suffered abuse. It’s a heavenly holding pen before they are reunited with their human parent.
So why didn’t she leave?
She has options now.
Jury, A., Thorburn, N., Burry, K. (2018). Pet Abuse as part of Intimate Partner Violence. National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges
Roguski, M. (2012). Pets as Pawns: The Co-existence of Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence. The RSCPA and Women’s Refuge: Women’s Refuge, New Zealand
Walton-Moss, B. J., Manganello, J., Frye, V., & Campbell, J. D. (2005). Risk factors for intimate partner violence and associated injury among urban women. Journal of Community Health, 30, 377-389