Animal abuse often goes hand in hand with domestic and family violence. An Australian study found that 53% of women fleeing violence reported that their companion animals had also been abused. Overseas studies have put this figure as high as 70%.
Animal abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual. The abuse also often involves an element of neglect with the animal not being provided adequate food, water, attention or veterinary care. This abuse can lead to long term physical, psychological and behavioural issues for the suffering animal.
Children forced to witness or participate in acts of animal cruelty can suffer serious psychological consequences, and go on to commit animal abuse themselves. It has been recognised that child perpetration of animal abuse is a reliable indicator of child abuse and domestic and family violence.
Abuse of companion animals can delay victims of family and domestic violence from fleeing or seeking help. A 2008 Australian study found that 33% of Australian women to delayed fleeing a violent relationship due to concern about what would happen to their companion animals, with a 2012 New Zealand study reporting this figure may be as high as 60%.
Even if victims of domestic violence can leave with their animals they are not safe. Shelters and refuges often do not or cannot house companion animals, and it is difficult to secure rental accommodation when fleeing with an animal.
Here in Australia, despite living beings who can feel pain, animals are classified as mere property under the law. This means that what happens to an animal once a violent relationship ends will usually come down to which person has a better claim of ‘ownership’ (e.g. who has registration for the animal), rather than what is in the best interests of the animal. This puts the animal at extreme risk of remaining with the violent offender.
If the victim leaves the animal behind, they may find themselves in a lengthy court dispute about the ownership of the animal. In the meantime, the animal may continue to suffer from abuse, which in turn could be used as a tool to manipulate victims.