Categories: domestic violence

Animal law UK protecting cats and dogs within domestic violence

I’ve been trying to find out whether it is illegal (actually a crime) in the UK to threaten to harm a companion animal within domestic violence. We know that an abusive partner can threaten to harm a cat or dog in order to get at their partner. It’s a way of controlling a person within a relationship. There may be actual violence against the animal with threats of further violence. This is coercive behaviour which should be covered by domestic violence laws designed to protect people in abusive relationships. But is it?

Protecting companion animals in domestic violence. Image: PoC.


I was was prompted to look at UK’s animal welfare and domestic violence laws by news from Australia. Today, it is reported that pet abusers in New South Wales could be charged under a proposed change to existing domestic violence laws (Crimes Act) if they abuse a companion animal in the context of domestic abuse between people. It is an important change because abusing innocent companion animals is a particularly vile form of domestic violence but sadly quite common. The Scotsman newspaper reports that in the USA 71% of domestic violence against women included companion animals being threatened, harmed or killed as part of coercive behaviour by the perpetrating partner.


The newspaper also reports, on 1 April 2019, that a new law has been introduced into Scotland: the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act. This made abusive behaviour towards companion animals within domestic abuse a crime. Abusing companion animals is a precursor for abuse against a partner. Abusers know that it can be a very effective way to emotionally harm their partner for the well known reason that companion animals are treated as family members. Women are particularly vulnerable in this regard because they are often the primary carer.

GPS in devices to control partner

I have just heard on the television that the UK is introducing legislation to protect against domestic abuse through controlling devices such as mobile phones. Mobile phones allow people to track people because of GPS mapping built into these devices and applications which can be downloaded. Domestic abuse through devices such as these is a growing problem and it needs to be controlled.


There is one further problem which needs to be mentioned and that is during the coronavirus pandemic there’s been quite a surge in domestic violence. I was listening to the radio this afternoon and a woman has recently found a home at a refuge with her daughter. Her two teenage sons could not go with her because they are too old. She is separated from them. She is distraught and destitute.


I could not find information which confirms that England, Wales and Northern Island have a law like the one introduced into Scotland. Because I can’t find it I have to assume that it does not exist (wrong? Please tell me). There have been discussions to include pets into the reference of “property” under existing law which is protected within domestic violence under the Domestic Abuse Bill (pets are still considered to be inanimate objects, i.e. “property” under the law in the UK).

My current assessment (subject to input from others) is that companion animals are not specifically protected under domestic violence laws in England, Wales and Northern Island. If this is true I find it very surprising because animals are particularly vulnerable as mentioned and women are reluctant to escape an abusive home because they are unable to take their companion animal or animals with them because of difficulties in caring for them while living in a place other than the family home. I’m referring to refuges for example which typically do not allow companion animals. Although, as I understand it, the position of changing. They have to placed animals with foster homes on a temporary basis which is difficult for them.

All domestic violence laws designed to protect a human victim within domestic violence should include references to companion animals and their protection as they are often used as a means to emotionally harm the human partner.

Research has shown that animal cruelty doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These crimes are often happening concurrently with other acts of violence, like domestic violence, child and elder abuse, assault, and even homicide. By addressing animal cruelty in our communities, we are also addressing other possible safety concerns and preventing future acts of violence. – Sheriff John Layton Marion County, Indiana

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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