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Quick Summary of the Cycle of Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

Emilie Ridge

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Summary of the Cycle of Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse


Domestic violence is an act of violence or abuse against a person living in one's household, especially a member of one's immediate family.  Over the years, domestic violence advocacy groups have pieced together the overwhelming evidence that has connected abusers of women and children to the abuse of their household pets. Animals are often the easiest target for abusers in a violent domestic relationship.  They use the helpless companion animal as a means of control and power over their victims. Often, the abuser threatens to harm or kill an animal to control the victim and keep her from leaving the abusive relationship.  Also, the abuser can instill fear in his victim by following through on threats to injure or kill an animal. This act shows the victim that if the abuser is willing to kill an animal, that he may also harm or kill the victim herself.

Several states have recognized the need for serious measures beyond charges of animal cruelty and have passed or initiated legislation to include pets and animals in protective orders.  A protective order is a legal order issued by a state court that requires one person to stop harming and to stay away from another person. Eight states have amended current laws to include animals in protective orders.  Fifteen states have pending legislation to amend current laws to protect animals in domestic violence situations. 

Protective orders are only one step in the prevention of animal abuse in domestic violence situations.  Cross-referencing between animal protection personnel, social service agencies and law enforcement is necessary to track, record, and ultimately prevent the domestic abuse cycle.  Battered women shelters must also recognize the need for intake of victims accompanied by their pets.  Over 100 “safe haven” programs have been put into place throughout the United States that help shelters collaborate with local animal organizations to find a safe place for the victim’s animals.  These laws, with the added support of local government agencies and shelters, will provide the necessary level of protection for animals who are also victims of domestic abuse.

To read a longer overview of the legal issues, click here.

Detailed Discussion of Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty


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