segunda-feira, abril 05, 2004

Domestic violence and animal cruelty: untangling the web of abuse

Journal of Social Work Education
March 22, 2003 | Faver, Catherine A.; Strand, Elizabeth B. | Copyright

DURING THE PAST 25 YEARS, a growing body of research has documented the links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence (Lockwood & Ascione, 1998; Ascione & Arkow, 1999). As a result, some communities have formed coalitions of human service and animal welfare organizations to address the interrelated problems of woman battering, child maltreatment, and animal abuse. Yet, although the social work literature has recognized the connections between domestic violence and child abuse (e.g., Pulido, 2001; Featherstone & Trinder, 1997), the role of animals in family violence has been ignored. In light of this omission, this article has four purposes: to explain why the link between animal abuse and domestic violence merits the attention of the social work profession, to review the empirical research on the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence, to suggest relevant knowledge and skills that social workers can use to address this issue, and to offer resources for integrating this content into the social work curriculum.

Significance of the Link Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence for Social Work

Historically, social work's primary mission has been fostering human welfare through social service and social reform (Chambers, 1963). However, to promote human welfare, social workers should also attend to the plight of animals. This attention to animal abuse is important for several reasons:

1. In recent years, social work has recognized the impact of the natural environment on human welfare (Rogge, 1993). Significantly, animals are part of both the natural environment and the intimate home environments of human beings. In both contexts, the well-being of animals is inextricably connected to the well-being of their human counterparts and companions. The ecological perspective (Germain, 1991), which initially focused on transactions between people and the social environment, has expanded to include the natural environment and must embrace the significance of animals for human welfare.

2. Social work has recognized the importance of the human-animal bond to human health and well-being. Specifically, the social work literature has addressed grief after loss of pets (Quackenbush & Glickman, 1984), animal-assisted therapies (Valentine, Kiddoo, & LaFleur, 1993; Mason & Hagan, 1999), the importance of maintaining the relationship between elderly people and their pets (Hoffman, 1991; Netting & Wilson, 1987), and social work in veterinary clinic settings (Netting, Wilson, & New, 1987). Therefore, the lack of attention to the abuse of animals within the context of family violence is striking (Flynn, 2000b). Indeed, as the following literature review will demonstrate, the bond between women and their companion animals makes it possible for batterers to coerce, intimidate, and control women by abusing their pets.

3. In 2000, the 106th Congress of the United States issued a concurrent resolution encouraging federal agencies to support more research on the connection between animal abuse and interpersonal violence (H.R. Res. 338). Additionally, it urged social workers and other mental health professionals to evaluate and carefully monitor individuals who abuse animals in order to prevent violence against humans.

4. The coexistence of child maltreatment and woman battering within households has gained increasing attention in the social work literature (Pulido, 2001; Fleck-Henderson, 2000; Featherstone & Trinder, 1997; McKay, 1994). There is also evidence that animal abuse often occurs in families in which children are physically or sexually abused (Flynn, 2000b; Ascione, 1993; DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983). The link between animal abuse and woman battering completes the "circle of abuse," more commonly called the "tangled web of abuse," which must be addressed by social workers in order to intervene effectively and prevent family violence.

5. Finally, there is growing evidence, described below, that batterers use threats and actual harm to family pets as a means of controlling and coercing women. This evidence also demonstrates that concern for the safety of pets is a significant barrier to women leaving abusive relationships.

Explaining the Lack of Attention to the Link

In light of the evidence that animal abuse is linked to both child abuse and woman battering, human and animal welfare organizations may strengthen prevention efforts and service delivery through greater collaboration and cooperation. Consistent with an ecological perspective, social workers who are alert to the web of violence will perceive the presence of animal abuse as an indicator that other types of violence may also be occurring in a household. Why has social work given so little attention to animal abuse and its link to domestic violence? Two main barriers stand in the way of a coordinated response, but there are several factors that can overcome these obstacles to facilitate the establishment of cooperation.

The historical evolution of animal and human welfare organizations offers some insight into the current neglect of the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. Beginning in the late 19th century, the movement to protect abused children was closely associated with the animal welfare movement. During the early 20th century, however, these causes evolved into separate organizational structures. Child protective services became primarily a function of the government, and private humane societies addressed animal welfare (Arkow, 1999). Woman battering did not gain public attention until the late 20th century, and a separate service system emerged in response. Specialization and the division of animal and human welfare concerns into separate institutions have impeded attention to the link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. In addition, service providers have often perceived the interests of their constituencies (maltreated children, battered women, or abused animals) as being in conflict with those of the other groups. Only in recent decades has empirical research documented the relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence, thus suggesting that attention to animal abuse can facilitate the work of human service providers.

Although the specific evidence for the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence will be described in more detail in a subsequent section of this paper, three studies in particular can function as an overview. With samples of 43, 28, and 101 battered female pet owners residing in shelters, these studies found that the percentage of women who reported that their partners had threatened or harmed their pets ranged from 46.5% to 72% (Flynn, 2000c; Ascione, 1998, 2000b). Only one study used a comparison group, and the results indicated that only 14.5% of a sample of 120 nonbattered women residing in the community reported that their partners had threatened or harmed their pets (Ascione, 2000b).

Evidence for the relationship between animal abuse and child maltreatment is derived from direct studies of this relationship and from secondary analyses of data collected for other purposes (Ascione, 1993). DeViney, Dickert, and Lockwood (1983) examined the incidence of animal abuse in 53 New Jersey families in which child abuse or neglect had been substantiated. The researchers found pet abuse or neglect in 60% (n =32) of the families in the sample. In most of the cases in which the pet abuse involved either inflicting pain on the animal or causing an inhumane death, one or both of the parents were the perpetrators; children were the sole pet abusers in only 14% of such cases. In addition, the rate of pet abuse was 88% among the 21 families in which there had been child physical abuse (as opposed to sexual abuse or neglect). In an unpublished analysis of an existing data set, Friedrich (cited in Ascione, 1993) examined the incidences of animal cruelty, according to parental reports, in samples of sexually abused and nonabused children ages 2-12. The findings showed that 34.8% of 89 abused boys, but only 4.9% of 453 nonabused boys, had been cruel to animals. Likewise, 27.5% of 182 abused girls, compared to 3.3% of 426 nonabused girls, had been cruel to animals. Although much more research is needed to explicitly examine the correlation between animal abuse and both domestic violence and child maltreatment, the studies to date have gone beyond anecdotal evidence in documenting the relationship between animal abuse and these two forms of family violence.

A second barrier which accounts for social work's lack of attention to the link is that social work's traditional mission has been to foster human welfare. With the exception of special contexts or circumstances, such as animal-assisted therapeutic environments or the homes of isolated elderly people, social workers have not perceived companion animals as playing an integral role in human social functioning.

The application of social work's ecological systems perspective (Germain, 1991), along with changes in the role of animals in society, are two factors that can help to facilitate social work's recognition of the link and can prompt the profession to develop a coordinated response to this problem. As early as 1983, surveys began to show that people regarded their pets as family members (Cain, 1983; Barker & Barker, 1988; Flynn, 2001). Moreover, in 1996, 58.9% of all U.S. households included pets (American Veterinary Medical Association, 1997), and 75% of households with pets also include children (Melson, 2001). If families have pets and if people regard their pets as family members, then social workers must pay attention to these animals in order to foster the social functioning of human individuals and families.

An ecological systems perspective also directs social workers to the transactions between humans and the animal welfare system (e.g., humane societies, veterinarians) and to the role of animal welfare agencies in the community's overall structure of services. Social workers have recognized the importance of serving on interdisciplinary teams in a variety of practice contexts. What is new is the introduction of animal welfare specialists into the team. In investigating reports of animal neglect or cruelty, these workers may be the first professionals to observe evidence of abuse or neglect of human family members within some homes (Loar, 1999). Thus, the development of cooperative relationships with animal welfare professionals may facilitate social workers' ability to protect or help vulnerable humans.

Animal Abuse and Interpersonal Violence: A Theoretical Perspective

Before reviewing the research, it is useful to ask why animal abuse, woman battering, and child maltreatment are empirically correlated. What, theoretically, explains the link? Adams (1995) and Flynn (2000b) have argued that a patriarchal culture which gives men power over women, children, and animals is at the root of family violence. Specifically, "the disadvantaged status of women, children, and animals makes it possible for all three groups to be victimized by more powerful violent males in a male-dominated society that has failed to take male violence seriously" (Flynn, 2000b, p. 93). This idea suggests that social policies which increase women's social, economic, and political power are needed as primary prevention for family violence.

Flynn (2001) also argues that the socialization of boys toward aggressiveness and away from empathy helps to perpetuate family violence. As an antidote, socialization patterns at school and home for all children must be focused on developing and reinforcing respect, empathy, kindness, compassion, and the responsible treatment of both humans and animals (Ascione, 1997). In a study assessing the effects of a school-based humane education curriculum on 4th-graders a year after the children had participated in the program, Ascione and Weber (1996) found that the humane attitude scores of the children who had participated (n=73) were significantly higher than the scores of the children who had not participated in the program (n=86). Moreover, the children's humane attitudes toward animals generalized to empathy for humans. Thus, social workers may help to prevent family violence by identifying effective humane education programs and encouraging their use in schools and childcare centers.

Review of the Research

Several studies have explicitly examined the occurrence of animal abuse in households of women who are battered. In a survey of 38 women from a domestic violence shelter in Utah (Ascione, 1998), 74% of the respondents reported that they currently owned a pet or had owned a pet during the previous 12 months. Seventy one percent of these 28 pet owners reported that their batterer had threatened to harm the pet, and 57% reported that their batterer had actually harmed the pet. Thirty-two percent of the 22 women who had children also reported that one of their children had hurt or killed a pet. Moreover, 18% of the pet owners reported that concern for their pets' welfare had delayed their entry into the shelter.

In a survey of 107 women from a domestic violence shelter in South Carolina (Flynn, 2000c), 43 (40%) of the respondents reported that they currently owned pets, and 20 (46.5%) of the pet owners reported that their batterers had threatened or harmed their pets. Considering only the women with children (n=28) in this study, one third (3 of 9) of the battered mothers whose pets had been abused reported that their children had also been abused, compared to 15.8% (3 of 19) of the battered mothers whose pets had not been abused. In addition, 55% of the 20 women whose pets had been abused reported that their pets were very important sources of emotional support as opposed to 34.8% of the 23 women whose pets had not been abused. This finding may indicate that the stronger the woman's bond with the pet, the more likely it is that her batterer would use threats or actual harm toward the pet in order to control, coerce, or intimidate the woman. It should also be noted that 40% (n=8) of the women whose pets had been abused delayed seeking shelter out of concern for their animals' welfare, and in five cases the delay was more than 2 months. Finally, 49% of the 43 women with pets continued to worry about their animals after they entered the shelter, and the 20 women whose pets had been abused were four times more likely to worry about them.

An unpublished study by Ascione, Weber, Edwards, and Openshaw, summarized by Ascione (2000b), compared 101 women in five domestic violence shelters in Utah with a nonrandom sample of 120 women in the community who had not experienced domestic violence. Seventy-two percent of the women in the shelters, compared to 14.5% of the nonshelter comparison group, reported that their partners had either threatened to harm or had actually harmed their pets. Moreover, 54% of the shelter group, but only 5% of the nonshelter group, reported that their pets had actually been hurt or killed. In addition, almost a fourth of the respondents in the shelter reported that concern for their pets had delayed them in seeking shelter. While only 3% of the nonshelter women reported that their children had witnessed pet abuse, 62% of the mothers in the shelters reported that their children had observed the abuse of their pets. According to the reports of the women in the shelters, the men who both threatened and committed animal abuse were more physically aggressive toward their partners than those men who only threatened their pets or who did not abuse them at all.During the mid-1990s, the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Community Coalition Against Violence began to survey women in domestic violence programs throughout the state regarding their experiences with pet abuse (Quinlisk, 1999). The first survey included 12 programs and yielded 72 completed surveys. Slightly more than two thirds (68%) of the respondents reported that they owned pets and had experienced incidents of pet abuse. Moreover, among these women, 88% indicated that the abuse had occurred in their presence, 76% reported that their children had witnessed it, and 54% reported that their children had imitated the abuse. In a survey of 32 women from a smaller geographic region a year later, the coalition found that 72% of the respondents reported some type of violence toward their pet, 65% witnessed the abuse, 43% reported that their children witnessed it, and 39% reported that their children imitated the abuse.

During a 3-year period, Jorgenson and Maloney (1999) gathered data on animal abuse from participants in their domestic violence programs. Of the 7,264 women who completed intake interviews for the advocacy program, 12% reported that their pets had been threatened, abused, or killed by their batterers. Further, of the 810 women in the safehouse program, 15% reported that their pets had been threatened, abused, or killed.

It is important to note that the race or ethnicity of the women in the studies cited above either was not reported (Quinlisk, 1999; Jorgenson & Maloney, 1999; Ascione, 1998), or was reported as predominantly White (Flynn, 2000c). Homogeneous samples fail to provide valuable information about the help-seeking behaviors of battered women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and the prevalence of animal abuse in their households.

The studies reviewed thus far also do not provide explicit information about the sexual orientation of the women in the samples. By their silence on this point and by their use of masculine pronouns in referring to batterers, the various authors seem to assume that their respondents were heterosexual. Although her sample was not racially or ethnically diverse (95% White), Renzetti (1992) offers insight into the web of violence in the lesbian community. In a sample of 100 battered lesbians in the United States and Canada, Renzetti found that 35% of the respondents lived with either their own or their partners' children and 30% of these children were also abused by the batterer. In addition, 38% of the respondents with pets (n not provided) reported that their animals had been abused by the batterer.

Although these studies reveal that animal abuse often occurs in conjunction with domestic violence, few shelters routinely assess this abuse. In a survey of 48 large, overnight domestic violence shelters from 48 different states, Ascione, Weber, and Wood (1997) found that only 27.1% of the shelters actually inquired about animal abuse during intake interviews. Yet, 85.4% of the shelters indicated that women who enter the shelter discuss incidents of animal abuse. In addition, of the 46 shelters that responded to a question about children, 63% indicated that children who enter the shelter with their mothers also mention incidents of animal abuse.As this survey suggests, although relatively few shelters systematically inquire about animal abuse, personnel are usually aware that animal cruelty often occurs in conjunction with domestic violence. Thus, a growing number of domestic violence programs are developing "safe haven" or "safe pet" programs to care for the animals of women who enter a shelter. These programs utilize animal-welfare agencies, veterinarians, and other individuals willing to provide foster care for the pets of women who are attempting to leave their batterer and do not have a family member or a friend to assume this responsibility. Ascione (2000a) conducted in-depth interviews with 21 domestic violence shelters and 20 animal welfare agencies that operate or are preparing to start safe haven programs for battered women's animals. Although shelters have been using informal methods to care for battered women's pets for at least 20 years, the oldest formal program in Ascione's survey was 5 years, and the mean age was 1.4 years. Firmani (1997) described several programs designed to shelter pets not only for battered women, but also for elderly people and people living with HIV/AIDS who temporarily need out-of-home medical care.

The creation of safe haven programs is a positive development, but it is not a panacea. While staying in a shelter, women miss their pets and continue to worry about them even if the animals are physically safe (Flynn, 2000a). Moreover, no research has tracked battered women and their pets to determine how likely it is for them to be reunited as opposed to the pet being relinquished. Women seeking freedom from abusive relationships often have difficulty finding affordable housing, and women who are greatly attached to companion animals may have even greater difficulty finding affordable housing that accepts pets. In 1994, only 10% of the 4,203,000 federal and state housing facilities allowed pets for all people (Hart & Kidd, 1994). Although there has been some progress to ensure that elderly people and individuals with disabilities are allowed to keep pets in subsidized housing, this legislation does not include women, adolescents, or children (Hart & Kidd, 1994).

Battered women who leave their households are at risk of becoming homeless (Bufkin & Bray, 1998). Studies of homeless people who have pets may provide insight into the ways in which animals affect individuals in transient situations, including women who are leaving abusive relationships. Singer, Hart, and Zasloff (1995) surveyed 66 individuals who brought their pets to a veterinary clinic for homeless pet owners. Thirty-two of the participants were acutely homeless (i.e., homeless for six months or less) and the other 34 were chronically homeless (i.e., homeless for more than six months or homeless multiple times). The researchers found that 69% of the acutely homeless respondents and 63.6% of the chronically homeless respondents desired to find housing. However, 96.6% of the acutely homeless individuals and 93.3% of the chronically homeless individuals also said they "would never choose housing without their pets" (Singer et al., 1995, p. 854). Kidd and Kidd (1994) interviewed 105 homeless people, 52 of whom owned pets. Based on a qualitative analysis of the interviews, the researchers concluded that the homeless pet owners were strongly attached to their animals. Thirty-two of the 52 pet owners (61.5%) reported that "their pets were their only source of companionship and love" (Kidd & Kidd, 1994, p. 719). Moreover, the homeless pet owners in this study would not enter shelters, even during inclement weather, because the shelters would not allow pets. Overall, the findings from these studies are similar to the evidence that shows that some women who are abused and have strong attachments to their companion animals will not leave their abusers, even if their own well-being is at stake (Flynn, 2000c).This review of the literature reveals a number of methodological and substantive limitations in the research to date. First, the samples are small and do not reflect the populations of battered women in the shelters and programs which were studied. Additionally, these samples do not represent the larger population of battered women who do not seek help from shelters or programs. Substantively, many questions have not yet been addressed by this research. For example, studies have not examined the chronology of the abuse (did the woman-battering begin before or after the animal abuse?), nor have they determined whether some women are prompted to leave an abusive relationship because of animal cruelty, as opposed to remaining in the household to protect the animal.

Implications for the Social Work Curriculum

Given the empirical evidence for the association between domestic violence and animal cruelty, integrating the link into social work education is important for preparing students to address domestic violence. As previously noted, social work's lack of attention to the link can be attributed to at least two factors: (1) human and animal welfare agencies have often worked in isolation from one another, and (2) pets have not been regarded as valued members of families. To overcome these barriers, the curriculum must address the link in terms of an ecological systems perspective, which is consistent with the values and knowledge base of social work (Germain, 1991). For example, courses must emphasize the significance of pets to the family and the role of animal welfare agencies as part of communities' systems of social control and service provision. This approach is reflected in the suggestions which follow. In the first section, relevant knowledge and skills are proposed for social workers to use in addressing the link. In the second section, specific curriculum areas are indicated where this knowledge can be integrated. The Appendix to this article lists supplementary resources for attending to the link in the curriculum.

Relevant Knowledge and Skills

Knowledge and skills in seven areas may be useful to social workers confronting the link in practice:

1. The link between animal cruelty and domestic violence must be understood within the larger context of the human--animal bond. It may be difficult for some social workers to understand the strength of the connection that battered women have with their pets. Thus, it is important to consider this bond within the larger context of animals as sources of companionship and social support for people in diverse situations, beginning in childhood (Melson, 2001) and continuing throughout the life course (Sable, 1995). Moreover, there is evidence that pets are supportive to people confronting special challenges, such as coping with disabilities (Duncan, Allen, Gorczyca, Fine, & Spain, 1999), living with HIV/AIDS (Gorczyca, Fine, & Spain, 1999), or experiencing isolation in late adulthood (Hoffman, 1991; Netting & Wilson, 1987). The evidence demonstrating the importance of the human animal bond in human functioning and well-being will make the strong relationship that many battered women have with their pets understandable (see Barba, 1995; Gunter, 1999; Sable, 1995).

2. To detect family violence in its various forms, social workers must be alert to the diagnostic potential of the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Women who report that their partner harmed, or threatened to harm, a companion animal should be asked whether their partner has ever abused or threatened her or any children in the home. Social workers should also know that children who abuse animals or report that their pets have been abused may be providing "clues" that family violence is occurring in their homes in the form of partner battering or child maltreatment (see Ascione, 2001). Finally, women and children who report a high turnover of pets within the home, or who cannot explain what happened to companion animals previously living with the family, may also be experiencing family violence. Social workers need to be aware of these potential indicators of domestic violence.

3. Using a systems approach to identifying family violence, social workers should incorporate questions about animal abuse in psychosocial assessments in a wide range of practice settings. Of course, domestic violence shelter staff, telephone crisis-line workers, court advocates, and law enforcement officers should all ask battered women whether they have a pet, whether the animal has been abused or threatened, and whether they are worried about the pet's safety. In addition, school social workers and social workers in outpatient and inpatient mental health settings should include questions about pets and animal abuse in psychosocial assessments: "How many pets are in your home?" "How many pets have been in your home during the past 5 years?" "Where are your pets now?" "Has anyone ever harmed a pet in your home?"

4. A systems approach to family violence also suggests that social workers should be active in educating domestic violence professionals, teachers, law enforcement officials, child and adult protective service practitioners, animal control and humane society workers, attorneys, and veterinarians about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. Although many service providers who work with battered women become aware that their clients' companion animals have been harmed or that their clients worry about their pets, these professionals may not recognize the scope of the problem. Likewise, teachers may have a sense that animal cruelty is a sign of behavioral or emotional problems for children, but they may not know that animal cruelty can be an indicator of family violence. Law enforcement professionals who are not alerted to the link may not consider animal cruelty to be a sign of family violence. This ignorance could result not only in an inadvertent neglect of domestic violence, but also in resistance to facilitating the safe placement of battered women's pets. Child and adult protective service workers who are unaware of the link may not ask about animal cruelty and thus miss the opportunity to gather more detailed information about the scope of violence occurring within a household. Uninformed animal control and humane society workers will not be alert to the signs of interpersonal violence in homes in which they are investigating reports of animal cruelty. If uneducated about the link, attorneys may miss the opportunity to create stronger legal cases against batterers and veterinarians who suspect animal cruelty in a patient may not recognize signs that the pet owner is also abused.5. Social workers need to establish active relationships with animal welfare agencies such as humane societies, animal-control offices, and veterinary clinics. These organizations are frequently the first to be informed of animal cruelty. If close affiliations are cultivated with these agencies, it is more likely that social workers will be alerted to animal cruelty cases in which family violence could also be occurring. In addition, these contacts can prove invaluable in finding care for the pets of battered women who need to seek shelter.

6. Promoting a systems perspective on family violence also means that social workers should seek to establish community coalitions of human service and animal welfare professionals and volunteers to address family violence in a holistic manner. These coalitions could include representatives of all human service and animal welfare organizations and agencies whose work addresses animal cruelty or family violence. Such groups can engage in a number of initiatives to prevent, identify, and intervene in family violence.

First, coalitions can sponsor media campaigns to inform the public about the link. Only a small proportion of battered women seek services from domestic violence agencies. Thus, broader efforts are needed to help women, children, and animals who are targets of violence in the home. Media campaigns may alert women to the significance of animal abuse and may prompt them to seek help before the violence escalates. Coalitions can also work with schools to sponsor humane education programs that seek to prevent violence by instilling respect, kindness, and compassion for all humans and animals (see Ascione, 1997).

Second, coalitions can create "safe pet" programs to address the needs of battered women who are concerned about their companion animals. By providing shelter for these pets, such programs seek to ensure that women's concerns for their companion animals do not interfere with their ability and willingness to seek shelter (Ascione, 2000a).

Third, coalitions can advocate for legislation and policies that identify and sufficiently intervene in cases of animal abuse. For example, coalitions can assess the legal definitions of animal cruelty, the penalties assigned, and the frequency and outcomes of prosecutions within their state, and then seek changes that will afford greater protection for animals and their human companions. In addition, coalitions can support court-ordered psychological evaluations for perpetrators of animal cruelty which will help to identify individuals who are also abusing their partners or children (American Humane Association, 2000).

Fourth, coalitions can initiate procedures for cross-training and cross-reporting between animal welfare organizations (e.g., animal control offices, humane societies) and human welfare agencies (e.g., child and adult protective services, law enforcement units) in their local area. Cross-training means that human service professionals are taught to recognize signs of animal cruelty, and animal welfare professionals are taught to recognize signs of child or adult abuse. In theory, cross-reporting means that if human service professionals observe signs of animal cruelty, they will make a report to the appropriate animal welfare agency (humane society or animal control office) for further investigation. Similarly, animal welfare professionals will report signs of human abuse to the appropriate agency (Arkow, 1995). For example, if an animal cruelty investigator observes signs of child abuse, a report would be made to child protective services. It is the responsibility of the human-welfare agency to investigate such reports and decide whether action is needed.

Although some animal and human welfare activists have been advocating for cross-training and cross-reporting, relatively few statutes have been passed to mandate such practices. For example, the District of Columbia "authorizes the Washington Humane Society to extend its operations to the protection of children from cruelty and abuse" (American Humane Association, 2000, p. 2). In Ohio, an "officer or agent may remove a child if deemed to be in cruel surroundings" (American Humane Association, 2000, p. 10). In California, state humane and animal control officers have been mandated reporters of child abuse since 1994 (Loar, 1999), and they became mandated reporters of elder and dependent--adult abuse in 2003 (Loar, personal communication, March, 2003).

In practice, it is likely that humane officers who discover child abuse would first contact child protective services and only remove the child themselves if the situation is perceived to be an emergency. To date, however, there is no information available regarding the implementation, outcomes, or unintended consequences of these laws. Although mandated cross-reporting has the potential to save lives, factors such as inadequate training for workers and insufficient protocols for implementation could result in greater danger to all involved.

Moreover, extending cross-reporting to the area of domestic violence raises many ethical and procedural issues. In order to reduce, rather than exacerbate, danger and to avoid violating women's rights to privacy, autonomy, and self-determination, coalitions must address many questions when considering cross-reporting. For example, if an animal-cruelty investigator observes signs that a woman has been battered, to what agency should a report be made (e.g., law enforcement agency, domestic violence agency)? How should the agency respond? Under what circumstances, and in what ways, should an agency intervene? How does the responding agency ensure that a woman's rights are not violated and that the woman and her children are not further endangered?

The success or failure of cross-training and cross-reporting statutes will depend on many factors, including the adequacy of the actual training, the degree of cooperation between animal and human welfare agencies, and the resources available for implementation and evaluation of outcomes. The success of cross-training and cross-reporting specific to domestic violence is likely to depend on the commitment and cooperation of domestic violence units in law enforcement agencies and on the availability of resources, including shelters and services for women and their children and pets. Cross-training and cross-reporting are most likely to be effective in conjunction with strong coalitions, including law enforcement, legal services, domestic violence agencies, child and adult protective services, and animal welfare agencies.

7. Social workers must continue to contribute to the knowledge base on the link between family violence and animal abuse through research. In light of the limitations of existing studies on pets and domestic violence, additional research on the scope of the problem across geographic regions and racially diverse samples of women is needed. Moreover, future studies should also explore how concern about companion animals affects battered women's decisions to leave abusive relationships. Under what circumstances do these concerns delay women from seeking shelter, and under what circumstances does violence toward a pet finally spur women to leave their abuser? Finally, no research has addressed what actually happens to women and their pets when they leave abusive relationships. What proportion of battered women with pets return to their abusers? What proportion of battered women with pets leave their abuser, but have no option except to relinquish their pets? What proportion of battered women who leave their abusers are successfully reunited with their pets in a permanent housing arrangement?

Curricular Areas for Content on Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty

The exploration of companionship and social support offered by pets, the use of the link as a diagnostic tool, and the incorporation of pet-sensitive questions in psychosocial assessments (items 1-3) can all be integrated into social work foundation courses, including human behavior and the social environment and practice, and into the advanced clinical courses involving work with individuals and families. In addition, these topics can be integrated into continuing education courses for practicing social workers. Appropriate readings for these topics include Adams (1995), Agnew (1998), Arkow (1999), Melson (2001), Ascione (2001), and Flynn (2000a, 2000b, 2001).

Strategies for educating professionals about the link, establishing working relationships with animal welfare agencies, monitoring animal abuse legislation, organizing grassroots efforts for the development of safe pet programs, and facilitating the development of community coalitions (items 4-6) can be appropriately incorporated into social work community practice and social welfare policy courses. Appropriate readings include Arkow (1995), Ascione (2000a), Ascione, Weber, and Wood (1997), and Ascione and Arkow (1999). In addition, students in field placements in human welfare agencies can educate agency staff about the link, facilitate the inclusion of pet-sensitive questions on agency intake assessments, and establish contacts between human and animal welfare agencies.

Finally, research courses can teach students how to design questions about pets and animal abuse to be used in intake interviews, how to analyze this information, and how to track women through the period of service delivery and thereafter to address the research questions identified in item 7. Appropriate readings include Ascione (1998, 2000a), Flynn (2000c), and Arkow (1995). In addition, with guidance from social work educators, students in field placements can help shelters and other agencies to incorporate research on animal abuse into their evaluation process.

The references cited in this section and throughout this article, along with the videos, websites, and intervention models listed in the Appendix, can be used to introduce students to the human-animal bond and to the link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. If there is an existing organization or coalition working on the link within the community, a representative could be invited to give a presentation. If this is impossible, many of the suggested readings and videos offer anecdotal accounts of women's experiences with domestic violence and animal abuse in their households. In addition, the readings, videos, and websites offer guidelines for prevention and intervention programs and describe some communities' experiences in forming coalitions to address the link.


In recent years the link between animal cruelty and family violence has captured the attention of sociologists, psychologists, criminologists, and lawmakers. This article has argued that the knowledge produced through research on the link has implications for social work practice. By integrating this knowledge into all areas of the curriculum, including field education, social work educators can strengthen efforts to prevent, intervene in, and finally end domestic violence.

APPENDIX. Additional Curriculum Resources
The Humane Society of the United States. (1998). First strike campaign video [8 minutes, 30 seconds]. (Available from First Strike Campaign, The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037)
Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (1999). Beyond violence: The human animal connection [13 minutes, includes discussion guide. Spanish version of video and guide available]. (Available from Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, P.O. Box 1297, Washington Grove, MD 20880-1297. Phone/ Fax: 301.963.4751,, web:
Latham Foundation. (1995). Breaking the cycles of violence. [26 minutes, video and guide]. (Available from the Latham Foundation, Latham Plaza Blvd., 1826 Clement Avenue, Alameda, CA 95401. Phone: 510.521.0920. Fax: 510.521.9861.
American Humane Association
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Humane Society of the United States
Latham Foundation
Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Intervention Models
The AniCare Model of Treatment for Animal Abuse. A joint project of Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Available from Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, P.O. Box 1297, Washington Grove, MD 20880-1297 or
AniCare Child: An Assessment and Treatment Approach for Childhood Animal Abuse. A joint project of Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Available from Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, P.O. Box 1297, Washington Grove, MD 20880-1297 or
Accepted: 04/03.
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Catherine A. Faver
University of Tennessee
Elizabeth B. Strand
University of Tennessee
Catherine A. Faver is professor, College of Social Work, University of Tennessee, and
Elizabeth B. Strand is social worker, College of Veterinary Medicine, and doctoral candidate, College of Social Work, University of Tennessee.
Address correspondence to Catherine A. Faver, University of Tennessee, College of Social Work, Henson Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996-3333.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Council On Social Work Education
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning


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