I recently wrote about the introduction of new legislation in Scotland which made abusing pets, and threatening to abuse them, in domestic violence situations an act of domestic abuse. It leads nicely to a discussion about the status of companion animals in households where there is domestic violence and abuse.
Law Prioritises People
In general the law, rightly, protects the human victim of domestic violence as a priority. However, often, the victim struggles to find a refuge where she is allowed to bring her companion animal with her. That’s changing and improving. Local authorities are increasingly providing programs for companion animals to accompany the human victim to allow her to flee the home sooner rather than later. Also foster carers can step in to look after the animals temporarily. However, there is a good argument that the status of companion animals under these circumstances needs to be elevated.
We need to think more about pets in violent households and how it affects them. As referred to in my previous article, abusers often abuse the family pet to get at the person that he wants to hurt. It’s a way of hurting the person emotionally and it’s very effective. However, the companion animal is also hurt both emotionally and physically.
On the abc.net.au Australian news website they mention a groundbreaking report from 2016, Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. The report contains some harrowing accounts one of which refers to a stepfather’s decades of abuse during which he would smash objects in the house and on one occasion he cut the head off the victim’s mother’s pet. The intention was to teach her a lesson. This man also beat the family dogs in a brutal manner. I am sure both the pets and the human have unerasable memories of these experiences.
Another story recounts how a woman had been unable to find a refuge for her son and two cats. She had to leave the cat with her violent partner. The woman ended up at her parent’s home. Her violent partner tracked her down. He waited outside holding one of the cat by the throat calling out to their son.
The man was bargaining for the return of his son in return for the cat. A frightening moment. Fortunately, there was a good outcome as she was later reunited with both cats.
Pets Are Victims Too
Cats and dogs are victims in their own right and violence both directed at them and towards a person in the household can be very disturbing for them. It can cause stress, anxiety and fear responses. Even in households where there is no physical violence there will be an intimidatory ambience and a stressful environment which will be picked up by companion animals.
If and when the cat and her owner are re-housed to escape the abuse, the cat is then placed in a strange environment under difficult circumstances. We know how this can be stressful for a cat. It is akin, almost, to being placed in an animal shelter.
The irony is that both cats and dogs through their companionship and presence help human victims of domestic abuse and violence. These pets are both victims themselves and therapy animals. They are the innocent ones who give and accept unflinchingly.
The tragedy is that most domestic violence is hidden from public view. It takes place behind closed doors. Many companion animals suffer in silence and in secret. We need to raise the status of the welfare of companion animals under these dire circumstances. This means the creation of more refuges tailor-made for both human and animal.
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