This thesis examines animal abuse occurring in the context of domestic violence, among animals encountered by veterinarians in practice and in media broadcasts of animal cruelty. Whilst the focus on the thesis is on animal abuse within a domestic violence context, I have also studied people’s response to animal abuse, following a media expose of animal cruelty.
The connection between human interpersonal violence and animal abuse has gained increasing interest in recent years; however, very little research has been undertaken from a veterinary perspective which focuses on animal welfare.
The first part of the thesis examines the impact of human interpersonal violence on companion animals by interviewing women survivors of domestic violence. Thirteen women were interviewed about the impact of domestic violence on their companion animals and whether veterinarians were a source of support. All women reported animals showing changed behaviour during the violent relationship and eight reported animals being abused or threatened by their partner. Private practice veterinarians were not generally seen as a source of support. A subsequent study of five of these women six months after leaving the violent relationship found that animals’ behaviour was reported to have reverted to normal. However, aggression/fear of men and proximity seeking to women continued in several cases. In a second study, 385 veterinarians from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, UK and South Africa self- selected to participate in an on-line survey covering issues of human/animal abuse and 3 mandatory reporting. Most were supportive of mandatory reporting of suspected animal abuse many felt they were poorly educated in human/animal abuse issues and were distressed by cases of animal abuse encountered at work. The majority also reported they had been victims of abuse in the veterinary workplace. Dogs were reportedly the most frequently abused animals and males were more likely to be animal abusers than females.
A third study surveyed members of the public who encountered media broadcasts of animal cruelty of cattle exported for slaughter during a media exposé in May 2011. Whilst most people were emotionally affected by the media coverage (e.g. feeling pity for the cattle, sadness, helplessness, anger), this did not translate into significant behavioural change, as only a minority took actions such as writing to politicians or newspapers about their concerns. This research assists our understanding of how animal abuse impacts on a range of people and animals, with a primary aim being to improve veterinary awareness. Improving awareness should enhance outcomes for people and animals living with violence.