Do you know the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence?

Do you know the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence?

Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Compiled by Chuck Parello
Voice For the Animals Foundation


A substantial amount of research has shown that an abusive household often contains more than one victim, and that an abuser is likely to harm both his intimate partner and domestic animals in the home. Exploiting the close, emotional bond shared by a victim and her companion animal, the abuser may use threats against the animal or even hurt or kill it in order to gain compliance or control over the human or to harm them emotionally. Animal cruelty can instill the same sense of fear and control to a human victim that physical abuse does, and it is a powerful weapon in a bully’s playbook—one they can exploit just as easily against a child, a family member, or an elder [1].

Researchers have found a batterer’s first target is often an animal living in the home, the second—a spouse or child. Here are a few examples of batterers trying to control their victims by threatening, torturing, and/or killing the victim’s animal companions:

• Wisconsin’s Leonard Kritz received time served for chopping the heads off three cockatiels, a conure, a chinchilla, a python, a boa constrictor, and another snake, after his wife told him she had had an abortion. Kritz claimed he decapitated the animals in order to “teach his wife about the sanctity of life.”

• For 13 years, the husband of Sandra Ruotolo of Pennsylvania battered her. The last time, he took a break from beating her with a vacuum cleaner cord and punched Ruotolo’s dog in the face, warning her if she left him, he would slit her dog’s throat in front of her. After contemplating suicide, Ruotolo looked at her dog and thought, “If I die, Duchess, what’s going to happen to you?” and shot her husband to death instead.

• After allegedly hacking to death his wife’s puppy with an ax and threatening to decapitate her with the same weapon—all in front of three horrified children—police charged Stephen Williams, of LaGrange, Ga., with aggravated cruelty to animals, first-degree child cruelty, and aggravated assault.

• After Melissa Davis of Ocala, Fla., moved out because her husband repeatedly beat her, he threatened to kill her dogs unless she came home. Davis refused, so he presented her with the head of her 4-month-old puppy later that day.

• Attempting to intimidate a woman who had accused him of assaulting her, John Witham of Randolph, Maine, allegedly took a pregnant cat to the woman’s home and told her to choose between him and the animal. Later, he reportedly backed over the cat with his truck, crushing her and her newborn kittens to death.

Because domestic abusers direct their wrath toward the powerless, animal abuse and child abuse often go hand in hand.

• Guillermo Lerma of Edinburg, Texas, who is serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, allegedly decapitated a live puppy in front of a different girlfriend’s children, warning that he would decapitate them as well if they told their mother.

• After allegedly shooting his family’s dog with a .22-caliber firearm, ordering his four children to clean up the bloody scene, and threatening to kill them if they told anyone, authorities charged Scot Maust of Lemont Furnace, Pa., with corruption of minors, making terroristic threats, and cruelty to animals [2].



To show their power and control over their family

• To teach and enforce submission

• To isolate the victim and children from a network of support

• To perpetuate an environment of fear

• To prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her to return

• To punish the victim for leaving or showing independence

• To harm the victim by forcing her to take part in abuse

• To confirm his power by denying the victim the ability to grieve after the harm or death of her animal [2].



FACT - Domestic violence, child abuse, and animal abuse frequently occur simultaneously in a family.

Multiple studies have found 49% to 71% of battered women reported their partners had threatened, harmed, and or killed their pets.

In a survey conducted by The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 85.4% of women and 63.0% of children reported incidents of pet abuse after arriving at domestic shelters.

According to a survey, women in domestic violence shelters were 11 times more likely to report animal abuse by their partners than was a comparison group of women not experiencing violence.

A study of 1,283 female pet owners seeking refuge found batterers who abuse pets also used more forms of violence and showed greater use of controlling behaviors.

A New Jersey study found that in 88% of families where child abuse was present, there were also records of animal abuse.

FACT - Women with pets may delay leaving a dangerous environment for fear of their pets’ safety.

Across various surveys, between 18% and 48% of battered women delay leaving a dangerous situation out of concern for their pets’ safety.

Because domestic violence shelters rarely accept animals, a departing victim must leave her animal in the household. Doing so leaves her vulnerable to harm through the ongoing abuse of the animal––abuse that may force her to return to her abuser just to protect it.

FACT - Individuals who commit animal abuse are more likely to become batterers.

Pet abuse was identified as one of the four significant predictors for intimate partner violence in a recent “gold standard” study conducted by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell and colleagues in three metropolitan areas over seven years.

The Chicago Police Department’s Domestic Violence Program examined the criminal histories of animal fighting/animal abuse arrestees for 2000-2001 and found approximately 30% had domestic violence charges on their records [3].



Intentional animal abuse is often seen in association with other serious crimes including drug offenses, gang activity, weapons violations and sexual assault and can be one of the most visible parts of an entire history of aggressive or antisocial behavior. The effective prosecution of animal abuse can provide an early and timely response to those who are, or who are at risk of becoming, a threat to the safety of others. And it can provide an added tool for protecting those who are victims of family violence [2].


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[1] Vivek Upadhya, The Abuse of Animals as a Method of Domestic Violence: The Need for Criminalization, 63 Emory L. J. 1163 (2014). Available at:

[2] The Connection Between Domestic Violence & Animal Abuse, ASPCA,

[3] Mary Lou Randour, PhD, Facts and Myths About Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse, Animal Welfare Institute,


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