Animal Abuse & Domestic Violence

February 15, 2018

Animal Abuse & Domestic Violence: Under Tennessee Law, the Connection Justifies Increased Protection

Olivia Garber

The link between animal abuse and human violence is a concept that has been discussed since the 14th century and although most of us are familiar with the infamous serial killers who also had a history of torturing animals—Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, just to name a few—the classification of animal abuse as a form of domestic violence is a lesser known but equally disturbing phenomena.  Fortunately, not only are state legislatures, law enforcement, and judges all over the country starting to acknowledge the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, but they are enacting measures to combat it, too.

The sad reality is that abused animals and domestic violence victims share a common trait:  their batterer is preying on the weak, vulnerable, and powerless.  Often, the relationship between the abuser and either the animal victim or human victim is one of economic dependence, strong emotional bonds, and an enduring sense of loyalty. The increasingly accepted classification of animal abuse as a form of domestic violence refers to the more-common-than-you-think situation where an abusive partner uses his or her partner’s pet as a pawn to manipulate and control the partner.  Did you know that nearly 75% of Americans have at least one pet in their household, and an overwhelming 95% of those U.S. pet owners consider their companion animals to be family members? For pet owners who find themselves in an abusive relationship, however, this bond is often a double-edged sword, as a battered spouse’s especially close relationship with his or her pet may actually increase the likelihood and severity of that relationship’s exploitation:  abusive partners use the animal as a coercive tool, threatening or harming the pet in order to control and inflict psychological trauma on the human victim.

In the eyes of abusive partners, the physical vulnerability of animals and the decreased risk of detection make this form of abuse an especially appealing method of domestic violence.  Abusive partners capitalize on the shortcomings of animal abuse detection and prosecution.  Traditional acts of domestic violence may be self-reported by the battered spouse, noticed by friends, family, or medical professionals, or reported by neighbors after a domestic disturbance.  Animal abuse within a home is far less likely to be detected.  Animal abuse used as a method of psychological control creates an environment of submission and terror, and may cause a battered spouse to delay or refrain from fleeing out of concern for the pet’s welfare and safety.  Only 3% of domestic violence shelters in the nation offer housing for victims’ pets.  Given the especially strong emotional attachment that domestic violence victims tend to feel towards their pets, it is no surprise that many victims struggle with the idea of seeking safety if it means leaving their pet in the hands of their batterers.

In light of this co-occurrence and intertwinement of animal abuse and domestic violence, 32 states (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have amended their laws to allow for judges to include companion animals in domestic orders of protection.  Further, in 2017, congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and congresswoman Ileana Ross-Lehtimen (R-FL) introduced the Pets and Women Safety Act, or “PAWS” Act.  The bill calls for extended protection to pets under federal stalking laws and interstate violation of protection orders, and also urges all states to allow for the inclusion of companion animals in domestic violence orders of protection.

Tennessee law allows for companion animals to be included in domestic orders of protection.  If either you or your beloved pet are in need of protection, please call our office and let one of our experienced attorneys assist you both.