Practical Issues > Politics
Expanding Domestic Violence Protective Orders to Include Companion Animals

Phil Arkow

When Susan Walsh, a 50-year-old woman from a rural area in Maine, testified before the Maine State Legislature in March, 2006, she had no expectation of how powerfully and rapidly her words would resonate and become a catalyst for domestic violence prevention and animal welfare advocates nationwide. 'It wasn't just the cats and dogs,' she said. 'It was the sheep and the chickens. I was terrified for their welfare. I knew if I were to leave, he wouldn't hesitate to kill them. He had done it before.' [1]

Walsh's testimony was part of a growing awareness of what is today called 'The Link'' between animal abuse and other forms of family violence. While conventional wisdom and historical tradition for centuries have focused on the implications of how animal cruelty adversely affects children, in recent years this concept has been expanded to include domestic violence as well.

Domestic violence is not as simple as one partner physically harming another. It consists of a complex range of controlling behaviors including physical, emotional, sexual and economic maltreatment, isolation, male privilege, blaming, intimidation, and threats. A growing body of research indicates that a significant number of individuals who abuse their partners also abuse their pets as part of this repertoire of controlling behaviors. Men who abuse the family pet have been reported to use more forms of domestic violence (sexual violence, marital rape, emotional violence, and stalking) and more controlling behaviors, and to be more dangerous, than non-pet-abusing batterers. [2]


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