Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds

Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds
The Dogs Trust said pets can be used to ‘coerce, control, physically harm and threaten’

Around nine in 10 households that suffer from domestic violence have said that animals were also abused by the perpetrators, new research has revealed.

The survey, carried out by Refuge4Pets and the Dogs Trust, found that in one in ten (12 per cent) households where domestic abuse was taking place, the pet was killed.

It also indicated that in 94 per cent of homes where an animal was given as a gift, the animals were then abused and sometimes killed by the perpetrator, showing that pets have been used to control and coerce victims.

The project surveyed 107 survivors of domestic abuse across the country, to better understand the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse.

The figures have been released to coincide with the Dogs Trust reaching a milestone of 2,000 dogs fostered on its Freedom Project, which supports people fleeing domestic abuse by providing temporary accommodation for their dogs.

Amy Hyde, Freedom Project Manager at Dogs Trust said:“Unfortunately, this new research revealing further links between animal abuse and domestic abuse is not shocking to us.

“We see first-hand the myriad ways that perpetrators use dogs to coerce, control, physically harm and threaten within abusive relationships.

“This is incredibly frightening for survivors and is often aimed to leave people isolated. We have heard of perpetrators not letting survivors walk their dogs alone, stopping them from accessing vet care for their dogs or being able to spend money on dog food and even repeatedly threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of their dogs.

“To instil fear and entrap, perpetrators prey on the strong bonds people have with their beloved pets – making these animals vulnerable to abuse because of the psychological and emotional damage that this causes.”

The research project was carried out by Dr Mary Wakeham and also found that 97 per cent of professionals working in the domestic abuse charity sector also said that animals are often used as a means of controlling someone experiencing violence.

Kimberly, a survivor supported by the Freedom Project, had her dogs Penny and Rusty fostered after she suffered abuse from a former partner.

She said: “My ex-partner’s mentally & physically controlling behaviour became gradually worse as time went on – I became totally dependent on him and it also impacted my dogs.

“If I reacted, he would know how to get to me even more – through my dogs. I just knew I had to get out. I moved out, took my dogs to two separate family members and went into the women’s refuge – that’s where I heard about the Freedom Project who fostered my two babies.

“I found the day they came home overwhelming. They settled back in after just one day, I felt complete again and it felt good and ‘normal’.

The Freedom Project was launched in 2004 and currently operates across the whole of Scotland and in 30 counties across England.

This year the Freedom Project will have fostered 2,000 dogs and helped 1825 people since launching.

During the pandemic, incidents of domestic abuse soared and the charity fostered 64% more dogs across the country in 2020 and 2021, compared to the previous two years.

Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer, said:”Refuge is delighted to continue working in partnership with the Dogs Trust Freedom Project; women, children and their pets have the right to live free from abuse and fear.

“At Refuge we know that many perpetrators of domestic abuse also harm pets – who are important and much-loved members of so many families in this country.

“Women tell us their partners control and frighten them by threatening to harm or kill their pets, or women experiencing economic abuse tell us of their fear when their perpetrators refuse to pay vet bills or prevent them and their pets from accessing other essentials.”