A funded study by CQU staff has found a significant relationship between intimate partner violence and animal abuse.
The study' published in Aggression and Violent Behaviour' conducted in partnership with the University of Sydney' University of Tasmania and the Cat Protection Society of New South Wales' showed the prevalence of animal abuse in households with intimate partner violence ranged from 21-89 per cent.
CQUni Professor Michelle Cleary' lead author of the study' said some of the animal abuse identified included kicking' punching' drowning' strangling' shooting' and burning.
"(The study found) that animal abuse is used to exert control' to intimidate' to retaliate' to upset and in revenge; and that animal abuse affects a person's decision to leave the abusive relationship and seek support'" she said.
"Animal abuse has an ongoing psychological impact on both animal and human victim survivors. The relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence' and the physical and mental health impact' including trauma' is shown by research but this knowledge isn't informing human service provider practice' or where it is' change is slow".
"There is a need for more tangible measures' such as social service providers asking questions about pet ownership and animal abuse; cross-reporting between agencies; data collection that includes reference to animal abuse; and the accommodation of pets in shelters and refuges".
"It remains a complex issue that will require a transdisciplinary collaborative approach."
The study was unique in providing a comprehensive systematic review of 35 articles from 30 peer-reviewed studies on animal abuse in the context of domestic violence' with a specific focus on the prevalence' motivations' and impact of the animal abuse on the victim survivors: people and pets.
Co-author Mark Westman is a veterinarian and Honorary Research Affiliate' Sydney School of Veterinary Science' The University of Sydney.
Mark co-founded Pets in the Park in 2012' a charity dedicated to providing free veterinary care to pets owned by the homeless and he was a member of the Unbreakable Bond (The Unbreakable Bond: The Mental Health Benefits and Challenges of Pet Ownership for People Experiencing Homelessness' Issues in Mental Health Nursing' 2020) research team. Some of his Pets in the Park clients became homeless due to domestic violence' so he has frontline experience providing practical' emotional' and veterinary support to victim survivor pets and their people.
Cat Protection Society of NSW CEO Kristina Vesk' first collaborated with Professor Cleary on The Unbreakable Bond.
"Cat Protection had provided some funding to help that research. Due to COVID-19' field research was no longer possible' so we discussed options to further explore the human-animal bond'" Ms Vesk said.
"The study on pet ownership and homelessness highlighted the risks a person would take to stay with their pet' and the need for more pet-friendly accommodation to help ameliorate those risks.
"Cat Protection knows from our experience with our human clients that pet ownership influences decisions made by victim survivors of domestic violence' and we know there is huge unmet demand for crisis accommodation that will allow pets.
"The research and study design are all credit to Professor Cleary and the research team. The summary of the included studies is compelling evidence that Cat Protection and other agencies can use to encourage more service providers to offer co-sheltering."
Dr Westman said it was rare that an abused pet was taken to the vet.
"Animal abuse is very rarely investigated because it is rarely reported' and it is also difficult to prove: unless the human victim survivor of domestic abuse is willing to make the accusation and somehow provide proof of the animal abuse' it is unlikely to go further. Psychological and even physical injury is almost impossible to attribute'" he said.
Dr Westman said human and animal domestic violence victims needed to be able to escape violence quickly and safely.
"I try to imagine what we as veterinarians can do to help this problem' and absolutely' like we've identified in the paper 'increased awareness'' 'development of cross-reporting' and 'training [veterinarians] to recognise the various forms of DV and AA' are all important' but the thing that will make the most difference is more pet-friendly accommodation – in refuges' shelters and rentals'" he said.
Dr Westman said the lack of funding for animal victims was concerning.
Professor Cleary said "People stay in those abusive relationships in order to not abandon their pets - to protect their pets. Identifying safe pathways out of DV means taking into account' not dismissing' the person's concern for their animals. It means helping them and their animals to safely leave' and not forcing them to leave their animals behind or to give them up'" she said.
The study is open access and available at the following link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2021.101676 .