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Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Pets used as pawns by abusers
By Stephanie Todd
BBC News Online Scotland

Dog in basket
Experts say there is a link between animal cruelty and family violence

For years, campaigns have been run to help the victims of domestic violence.

Help is at hand for women, children and men to escape from abusive partners.

But a growing number of cases have shown that a women will be scared to leave partly because of her guilt at leaving a family pet behind.

Experts have found that abusive partners will often use a much-loved pet as a tool to control and manipulate someone who would otherwise walk out.

About 75% of women victims interviewed by the charity, Paws for Kids, over a period of three years stated that their abuser had harmed or threatened to harm their pet.

It has also been found that in some cases, a person being cruel to a family pet will progress to physically abusing other members of the family.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that animal cruelty can often be an indicator of future domestic violence and is pushing for the link between cruelty to animals and family violence to be formally recognised.

A man from Glasgow was recently jailed for three months for stabbing his pregnant dog to death. He admitted carrying out the attack on the collie bitch after losing his temper following an argument.

Scottish Women's Aid believe victims of abuse may feel prevented from escaping a violent home if they are not able to take their animals with them. Some fear retribution will be taken out on the family pet if it is left behind.

An abusive partner will recognise her love for the pet and use it to keep her in line
Mary Lockhart
Scottish Women's Aid

The charity's Mary Lockhart said many women who contacted the charity feared for the welfare of their pets.

"Anecdotal evidence has shown that an abusive partner will threaten dogs and cats, kick or harm the pets, even put poisonous substances in goldfish water, as a means of controlling the other person in the relationship," she said.

"For women with children living with domestic violence, they can take the child with them to a refuge or call on social services for support.

"But when their main concern is for the welfare of a pet, they feel they can't leave because they don't think they can take the pet with them. An abusive partner will recognise this and use her love for the pet to keep her in line."

She added: "Animals are sensitive to human emotions. In a household where the woman is fearful, where there is a lot of shouting, where there is physical violence and where the children are traumatised, pets are likely to be affected too."

Pet fostering

Few refuges have the facilities to allow pets to stay with their families when they escape an abuser, but a service has been put in place to help women caught up in these situations.

The Pet Fostering Service Scotland (PFSS) was originally set up to provide temporary care for pets belonging to people being treated in hospital but the scheme has been extended to care for pets involved in domestic violence situations.

Anne Docherty, chairwoman of the PFSS, said: "We can help take pets for people who find themselves in an emergency situation where they can't leave their home because they don't want to leave a pet behind.

There are a growing number of cases that show threats or cruelty against family pets can be used as a way of manipulating people
Supt Mike Flynn
"Often they can't afford kennels and think they have no other alternative but to stay.

"Once they've contacted Scottish Women's Aid, they contact us and we will provide temporary short-term care for that animal to allow the person to leave the home without worrying about leaving a pet behind."

The SSPCA said it was often called out to homes where cruelty has been reported, only to find that it is an indicator of further violence in the home.

Research by the charity has also found that those who abuse animals have a greater chance of becoming violent towards people.

The findings form part of the SSPCA's First Strike Scotland campaign, which aims to identify the link between animal abuse and violence against others, including domestic and child abuse, and work to stamp it out.

Bullied boy

SSPCA superintendent Mike Flynn said: "Not all people who batter pets batter their partners but there are a growing number of cases that show threats or cruelty against family pets can be used as a way of manipulating people.

"The knock-on effects of this can be very wide-ranging, especially when children are also involved.

"In one case I was called to, a young boy of 11 was regularly killing his pets. The house was a menagerie of animals - hamsters, gerbils, cats and dogs - after a bit of research we found that the boy was being bullied at school.

"Whenever he had a run-in with the bullies, he would come home and kill his favourite pet.

The return of a fostered family pet brings added stability to children
"When we were called to remove the remaining animals, the lad attacked us with a baseball bat. His mother started crying and told us that the boy's father, who she had left recently, used to beat her with a baseball bat and harm the animals. The boy was just mimicking the behaviour."

He said that the charity was currently pushing for the link between cruelty to animals and family violence formally recognised across government agencies in Scotland, including a system of cross reporting to protect all potential victims.

Doreen Graham, spokeswoman for the Scottish SPCA said: "We need to get people out of thinking 'oh it's only a dog'.

"Cruelty to a family pet can be used as a means of power and control over someone in the family home."

For details about how you can seek help and advice about domestic violence, go to the websites listed on the top right of this page.

Jail for 'barbaric' dog stabbing
28 Jul 04  |  Scotland

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