In a 2001 collaborative study (the Calgary Humane Society, YWCA Family Violence Prevention Centre, researcher Sue C. McIntosh and supported by RESOLVE Alberta) of 100 women in shelters who owned pets:
- 25% delayed leaving an abusive situation out of fear of what would happen to their pet. (In an earlier Hamilton study, the number was 48%).
- 56% reported that their abuser either threatened to and/or actually hurt their pet (61% in Hamilton).
- 21% were aware that their abuser had abused animals as a child or adolescent.
Of those women with both children and pets, who stated their partner had abused their pet:
- 65% reported that their children were aware that their pets were being abused.
- 65% believed that their children were impacted by the abuse of their pets.
- 59% talked with their children about their pets being hurt or threatened, but only 19% discussed the impact of such abuse with anyone else (6% discussed it with a counsellor or social service worker).
Studies conducted in other parts of Canada indicate a similar situation. In a Winnipeg Study, 78% of those charged with animal cruelty had also been charged with violence or threats of violence against people. Over 60% of 39 women who had been abused by their partners and were living in women's shelters in Hamilton and Owen Sound said their pets had either been abused or killed by their partners.
Victims tell their stories
Although statistics are important in demonstrating the magnitude of a situation, it is also important to listen to the voices of those affected. Those involved in the Calgary study were surveyed and their comments are very revealing.
Regarding the decision to enter a shelter, one participant stated that once she entered the shelter her cat disappeared and she subsequently received photographs in which the cat appeared to have been killed. Another woman noted that her partner threatened to hurt or kill her pets, and when she entered the shelter her cats went missing.
In terms of violence witnessed, one participant reported that her partner shot the family dog in plain view of his four-year-old son. Another woman indicated that her children hated their father for hurting the family dog, and felt bad because the dog was trying to protect her.
Other participants noted a change in their children’s behaviour after witnessing abuse of their pets by a family member. One noted that her son became more hurtful to others, withdrawn and emotional. Another stated that her young son began to show traits similar to those of her abusive partner, and had a “total disregard for life, even humans.” Yet another participant noted that her children “hurt animals when they are angry, because they think this is normal, because they don’t realize it can be different."