Abuse of an Animal is Domestic Violence

Many people know that a few months ago, my husband and I lost our thirteen year old Dachshund, Bagels.  While Bagels had been ill, there were no signs that her condition was worsening, so we were shocked by her sudden death.  This loss not only left us sad, but also left our other dog, Bessie, very sad too.

As a result, this weekend Bessie and I sought out to adopt a Dachshund so Bessie can have some company.  As I sat watching all of these dogs looking for good homes, knowing that many had come from hoarding and other forms of abusive homes, it reminded me of how difficult it is to fathom how and why someone would be abusive to an innocent animal.

In the field of family law, domestic violence is an ongoing problem and conversation.  Family law practitioners are highly aware of the problems surrounding this prevalent social issue.  However, much of the public is either unaware or underestimates how prevalent domestic violence is in our society.  A few years ago, the California Legislature implemented a law to allow for a restraining order to be issued against a person who is abusive to an animal; not only for the animal’s safety, but because it has been found there is a correlation between animal abuse and family abuse.

Family Code section 6320(b) authorizes the court to order a person to stay away from the animal and forbid that person from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, harming, or otherwise disposing of the animal.  The enactment of this provision was based upon the following findings made by the Legislature at the time this law became effective:

“(a) There is a correlation between animal abuse, family violence, and other forms of community violence.

“(b) According to the California Department of Justice, California law enforcement received 181,362 domestic violence calls in 2005.

“(c) Perpetrators often abuse animals in order to intimidate, harass, or silence their human victims.

“(d) A survey of pet-owning families with substantiated child abuse and neglect found that animals were abused in 88 percent of homes where child physical abuse was present.

“(e) A 1997 survey of 50 of the largest shelters for battered women in the United States found that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering shelters discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family.

“(f) A study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt, or killed their companion animals.

“(g) Another study showed that violent offenders incarcerated in a maximum security prison were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets.

Domestic violence has recently been a popular discussion in the daily news, because of the recent high-profile stories regarding various NFL players and the NFL’s reaction to such conduct. Yet, the problem is not just with the NFL; rather, it is a looming societal problem which is thankfully finally receiving some well-deserved attention, simultaneous to a public outcry for change.  Domestic violence is a pervasive problem and it is important for the public to be educated about the various forms of domestic violence and the signs of possible precursors to violence, such as the abuse of an animal.  While I am grateful to have the opportunity to provide a good home to a dog that may have experienced abuse in its prior home, it is so unfortunate at the same time.