Battered women? What about their pets?

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Abuse
Tags: ,

For my second book in the Dead By My Side series (Dead In My Heart) I’ve been doing research about domestic abuse and shelters for women.  Tony’s character is going to have a love interest in the form of a medium or psychic (Gemma) and  I decided to introduce another character—her mother (Aurora).  Aurora’s character is going to run a shelter for women.  While researching  the subject, I ran across an article in an old edition of O, the Oprah Magazine, a June 2008 edition.  The article was titled “The Battered Pet” by Barry Yeoman.   I was reading material at a bed and breakfast I visited recently.  I’m usually irritated when “old” magazines are the only reading material provided.  Especially the old Readers Digest provided in my doctor’s office.  However, in this case, I was glad I ran into this information.  It raised a subject that never occurred to me.  Abuse perpetrated on the pets of battered women.

The article recounts the experiences of Marcella Harb-Hauser, DVM, of San Rafael, CA.  The story which broke my heart was in 1992 while she was interning at a New York vet hospital.  A woman brought in a Yorkshire terrier whose eyes had been glued shut.   The pet owner told one of the doctors that she had to get the dog back that night or there would be trouble with her boyfriend because they weren’t allowed to leave the house.  The client returned again on another visit.  That time the dog’s eyes were glued shut and so were the ears and sexual organs.

The article goes on to say that:  “With devastating frequency, animals are the collateral victims of domestic violence.   Dogs and cats, lizards and rabbits, horses and other farms animals – abusers torture and kill them, or threaten to do so, in order to maintain control of their spouses.”  The sad thing is that it works.  At the time this appeared in Oprah’s magazine, most shelters didn’t accept animals.  And according to various studies at that time:  “between 18 and 88 percent of shelter residents delayed leaving their tormentors for fear that their animals would be injured, or worse.”

Never having been the victim of abuse, as I was reading the article, I found myself wondering why women would choose to stay with their abusers because of a pet.  One victim explained it:  “It may seem bizarre, even crazy, that we stay in these situations because of our pets.  But we rely on these animals to give us comfort.  It’s almost like therapy.  You have something you can hold, that you can love, that loves you back.”

We all know that some battered spouses are unwilling to press charges against their abusers.  ASPCA’s Randall Lockwood states, “Sometimes , then, the most surefire way to prosecute a batterer is on charges of animal cruelty, which, if severe enough, is a felony in many states.”

This article certainly opened my eyes and I was glad to learn that thanks to the efforts of veterinarians like Harb-Hauser, victim’s willing to come forward, and organizations like the American Humane Association, shelters and lawmakers are taking notice.

  1. Kym Davis says:

    The lengths you go to in your research continues to astound me… thanks for this insight and enlightenment. I love you dearly.. Your CGP – Kym

    • Likewise, my creepy gal pal…

      From the beginning I’ve been grateful for the friendships I’ve made among those of you in law enforcement. I feel humbled by all that you do and the sacrifices you make.

  2. Catherine says:

    Being the victim of spousal abuse I can say that not enough is understood about the whole abuse situation. Thank you for taking this turn in your story to bring to light the suffering of not only the human, but the animals as well. Kudos!

    • Thank you for your comment Catherine. I was lucky to have a wonderful marriage and it’s very difficult for me to read about abuse of any kind in my research. I am glad to be in a position to raise awareness. My best wishes for you. Take care.

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