Of Human Darkness: The Link Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

Oubliette.  It’s a particularly nasty little word, no matter how one looks at it.  Drawn from the French oublier–which means to forget completely, to put out of one’s mind–it’s also the name of a horrible invention of punitive confinement–a dungeon with only a trap door in its ceiling.  These days, it might refer to a trash chute leading to an incinerator or compactor, but I find its original meaning highly appropriate for the topic at hand.  Please take a few minutes to read, to see, what our society is so fond of excusing or ignoring.  Yes, it’s an uncomfortable topic, but such behaviors can only flourish in the dark, fetid spaces offered by public discomfort.


One and the Same

For many years, both policy makers and those spearheading charitable organizations failed to see the connection between abuse of a family member or partner and maltreatment of domestic pets.  Fortunately, abnormal psychology came to our aid with its painstaking appraisal of personality disorders and mental illness that causes a person to be abusive.  Once it was acknowledged that abuse of an animal was not simply an isolated behavior, but often a precursor to abuse of other humans, many scholars began to examine the issues more closely.

But what are the reasons for an abusive spouse or partner to also abuse family pets? Power. Abusers enjoy the reactions of pets to physical abuse. Imagine a puppy who has been hit by its owner.  It cowers, displays submissive behavior, and showers affection on its abuser to avoid painful treatment.  For the type of person–often suffering from one or more of the disorders in a group called Cluster B–showing their power over another animal is integral to maintaining their delusional world view. You can read more about such situations here.

Generally speaking, Cluster B disorders usually accompany patterns of serial abuse. Read that: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Such individuals may be narcissists or sociopaths, and almost always develop patterns of abusive behavior in childhood.  This predilection for animal abuse will almost always escalate to encompass intimate violence, psychological abuse such as gas lighting, and even child abuse, later in life.


To Protect the Innocent

While services to assist both men and women in escaping an environment of intimate violence have increased in both number and scope over the past decades, there’s still much progress to be made.  Only recently have these organizations addressed the obvious link between animal abuse and human abuse.  However, it’s still the case that many women’s shelters offer no assistance for those seeking to bring pets with them.  Hence, women are faced with the choice of escape, leaving everything behind, or remaining in the abusive context to offer what protection they can to children or animals.

Although victims of abuse are seen as helpless by society, they often feel the need to protect those perceived as yet more helpless or innocent.  This may be a result of the fact that many victims are made to feel responsible for their own situation by their abusers.  Another explanation is a type of empathy, a need to spare or shield those the victim sees as undeserving of harm from abuse.

Because these animals are sources of comfort, affection, and nurture for abused individuals, abusers will often use their safety as leverage to keep a partner from leaving them.  This, in and of itself, is a form of abuse.  In order to empower individuals to escape such an environment, there must be provision for the safe care of a pet.  Otherwise, we return to square one.


Stepping Into the Gap

It’s one thing to see a connection.  It has proven quite another proposition altogether to fund such services at the national or state level.  Shelters and assistance services often simply lack the funds, personnel, or space to care for the animals of those exiting an abusive household.  However, that hasn’t stopped some innovative strategies.

Local and state organizations have begun to appear.  They work with victims of abuse to shelter their pets.  The American Humane Society is also a partner, though one of last resort, if foster families or kennel spaces are unavailable.  In Georgia, where I live, one major organization of note is called Ahimsa House .Their mission is to provide emergency shelter for the pets of anyone fleeing an abusive home environment.  With close ties to several organizations that help individuals find shelter for themselves and children, Ahimsa House helps to expedite their exodus.


Community Effort

While in the past they’ve helped many individuals find safe places for pets until a more stable home could be arranged, they are an organization that requires community involvement.  In part, federal and local grants may assist them, but donations, volunteer service, fostering spaces, and other charitable giving, make their mission possible.

This year, I’ve decided that my contribution will be half of the royalties received from the sale of my book No One Has Such a Dog, and No One Should.  (http://www.amazon.com/One-Has-Such-Dog-Should-ebook/dp/B015Y8MFWS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8For the sake of clear bookkeeping, I will begin on February 1, 2016.  If you would like to be a part of this initiative, simply click on the hyperlink, purchase a book, and know that you’ve contributed to a worthy cause.

No, it won’t be a huge sum in the individual sense, but together, we can all make a difference.  Small, manageable acts of kindness are the keys to enormous, positive change.  If you either can’t purchase a book or have no wish to do so, you can still be a part of things by sharing this initiative with your online communities.  That counts, too.


“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” ~Oscar Wilde


Photograph by Ansel Adams












6 thoughts on “Of Human Darkness: The Link Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

  1. Reblogged this on MDellert-dot-Com and commented:
    E.W. Sandlin, author of two collections of poetry, the short novel “Petit Fours at the Pie Hole,” and the wonderful collection of canine essays, “No One Has Such a Dog, And No One Should,” is donating a portion of sales to support Ahimsa House, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the victims of domestic violence and the pets who are too often and too tragically caught in the middle. Please support this cause with your heart, your prayers, and your shares. You can find “No One Has Such a Dog, And No One Should” right now on Amazon. It costs so little, but means so much. Please check it out today. http://amzn.to/20GBker

      1. Your commitment to stand against social injustices, rather than turn blind eyes, shuttered ears, and closed mouths away from them, is to be applauded. “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself,” said Albert Camus. You were the writer he was talking about.

  2. A very powerful piece and having worked extensively in domestic violence in the past, I am pleased to read such a well-written post. What you are doing is commendable.

    1. Thank you. That’s a weighty commendation from someone with broad, firsthand knowledge of this culturally uncomfortable problem. I only hope that I’m able to shed a little light on the subject, help people be more aware, and maybe help buy some supplies/resources via my donation effort with the book. 😊

      1. I think what you are doing is amazing and I wish you all the very best with it all. Such a difficult subject to bring up but you have done it beautifully.

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