Domestic violence as well as serial and mass criminal violence often involves animals. For families suffering with domestic violence or abuse, the use or threat of abuse against companion animals is often used for leverage by the controlling/violent member of the family to keep others in line or silent. The violence may be in the form of spousal abuse, child abuse (both physical and sexual), or elder abuse. The statistics are chilling. It is estimated that 88 percent of pets living in households with domestic abuse are either abused or killed. Of all the women who enter shelters to escape abuse, 57 percent have had a pet killed by their abuser.
Those who commit serial or mass criminal violence often use animals as "rehearsal" tools in their adolescence to work themselves up to the eventual abuse or killing of people. This link was first established 250 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be changing. That means children who torture animals should be dealt with quickly, and it should be taken seriously. The child may be acting out because he/she is being abused or may be building up to something worse.
The more subtle problem is animal neglect. It is important not only for the pets involved, but for the children in the home as well. Most often if the animals are being neglected the children are too, and sometimes animal humane societies can respond sooner to reports of neglect than the overloaded child services divisions can.
Veterinarians are starting to play a larger role in the reporting of abuses of all kinds. Veterinarians are learning to look for warning signs in pets. For example, if there is a household where many animals live but none ever reach the age of two, then something bad is going on. The other more obvious signs are injuries to pets that don’t match up to the story being told by the pet owner.
Because women’s shelters do not accept pets, abused members of the family often delay their exit---leaving everyone in the home facing serious physical danger. Some experts are advocating that animal shelters and veterinary hospitals should work to provide temporary homes for pets when an abused person needs to leave a dangerous situation.