Lethality Indicators

Harm to pets

When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign others in the household may not be safe. A correlation between animal abuse and family violence has been well established, with studies identifying 71–85 percent of victims in domestic violence shelters report their abusers also threatened, harmed or killed the family pets (American Humane Association, 2016; Humane Society of the United States, 2008). Indeed, pet abuse is an effective tool batterers use to terrorize victims and keep them silent about their abuse.

Pet abuse — including tactics such as threats or physical harm to a pet, killing pets, deprivation of pets, and financial abuse impeding the obtaining of veterinary care — often functions to discourage victims from leaving the relationship, for fear the abuser will harm or release the pet if they take steps towards independence. Pets were used to manipulate all the victims interviewed for a recent Georgia study, regardless of the abuser’s reported affinity for the pet (Johnson, 2018). Concern for a beloved companion animal’s welfare prevents or delays 50–100 percent of victims from escaping domestic abuse (Carlisle-Frank et al., 2004; Johnson, 2018). For victims who flee the relationship, pets left behind may be used as a tool of retaliation against a victim, as a way to coerce her return to the relationship, or as a way to intimidate the victim and children against testifying in court.

While Project data on pet abuse is limited, demand for domestic violence services for Georgia pets is on the rise. Ahimsa House, a Georgia nonprofit organization dedicated to helping human and animal victims of domestic violence reach safety together, has provided more than 84,000 nights of safe shelter for pets in need (M. Rasnick, personal communication, August 17, 2018). During 2017, Ahimsa House saw a 28 percent increase in demand for services over the prior year and received 24 times the number of calls as in 2007, the year the program expanded its reach statewide (Rasnick, 2018). To learn more about services to animal victims of domestic violence in Georgia, visit AhimsaHouse.org.