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Animal cruelty clue to domestic violence

The chairman of an influential group investigating links between child abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty has called for better reporting of potential cases.

Jonathan Silk, Regional Director of the RSPCA, who was speaking at the Links Group’s ‘Violence at Home’ conference, told delegates:

‘There are clearly significant levels of violence in a domestic environment to children, animals and partners across the globe and an increasing body of evidence is pointing to a link between them. But the scale of the crossover is probably masked by relatively low levels of cross-reporting across the species barrier. We must do better.’

The multi-agency Links Group was set up in 2001 to encourage all organisations to work together to aid the prevention and detection of related cases of abuse.

Pioneered by animal health company, Intervet UK, working alongside the NSPCC and RSPCA, other members include Refuge, Dogs Trust, Scottish SPCA, Paws for Kids and PDSA. One of the main achievements of the Links Group has been the introduction of a joint RSPCA / NSPCC inspector training programme to encourage greater cross-reporting. Last year social services referred over 600 cases to the RSPCA.

Data collected by domestic violence charities, Refuge and Women’s Aid, shows there were almost 400 cases of violence to animals last year with pets being used to coerce, control and intimidate and many women remain in a violent relationship because they cannot leave their pets behind. As a result, a number of pet fostering services have been set up around the country by various charities, including Dogs Trust and the RSPCA and demand for their services is high.

Since the Links Group’s formation, two thirds of veterinary undergraduates have been trained to identify non-accidental injuries in animals and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Guide to Professional Conduct now contains an annexe on animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence and provides advice on breaching confidentiality under certain circumstances.
Interest in animal abuse as an under-utilised marker for family violence was first investigated in America and Phil Arkow, one of four international experts on the subject, addressing the Links conference commented:

‘The formation of The Links Group is part of a growing global movement across the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, while authorities in Spain, Austria, Italy, Japan and Brazil are also responding to the concept.

‘Some key themes have emerged from current research and practice in the area: animal abuse is a human welfare concern, which forms part of a pattern of violence within the family; animal abuse perpetrated by youths is no longer being excused but is being recognised as a serious threat and often a precursor for interpersonal violence; and when animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk.

‘Sixteen states in the US have passed legislation to include pets under the aegis of domestic violence protection orders, while the UK, US, New Zealand and, most recently, Canada have implemented a code of ethics for veterinary surgeons who suspect animal abuse. These two key developments indicate more widespread acceptance of animal abuse as being inextricably intertwined with family violence and as much of a human welfare issue as an animal welfare concern.’


The RSPCA has established a protocol for reporting concerns that may arise from a home visit, particularly with respect to child welfare.

Useful Statistics:

• Every week at least one child dies from cruelty. (NSPCC).

• Over half of UK households have a pet but the RSPCA successfully convicts just under 2,000 people of cruelty to animals per year. Again, this statistic has changed little over the past decade although the number of complaints of cruelty has continued to rise.

• 89% of victims of domestic violence are women (source: Home Office National Report 2005) and one in four women suffers domestic violence at some point during their lives, with two women per week being killed by their partners. Furthermore, 750,000 children witness violence between their parents or carers (source: NSPCC).

• Since its launch in 2004 the Dogs Trust Freedom Project in London has fostered over 115 dogs (and has arranged care for 82 cats) to help women and their children flee domestic violence situations and find temporary or permanent accommodation knowing their dog or cat is safe. The scheme proved so popular that the charity launched a similar scheme in Yorkshire in 2005. Since its launch the Yorkshire Freedom Project has fostered over 85 dogs in the North East - both schemes allowing over 250 families get their lives back on track.
Case Studies:

The RSPCA has established a protocol for reporting concerns that may arise from a home visit, particularly with respect to child welfare.



Case study one: The RSPCA prosecuted a young woman for continually abandoning animals. The inspector worked closely with the Local Authority anti-social behaviour unit to whom the woman was already known. When she became pregnant, social services were concerned about the safety of her child as she was associating with a known rapist and some paedophiles.

Social services arranged for the RSPCA to attend a case conference alongside other agencies and the RSPCA proposed that any living thing, animal or child, in the woman’s care was at severe risk. After proceedings, the grandmother was eventually granted permanent custody of the child.


Case study two:
Following concerns from a school in Nottingham about a pupil who often missed school and was dirty when he did attend, an investigation by a GP and school nurse found his mother to be an animal hoarder. A child protection team placed the child on the Child Protection Register and put a team together to address the situation. This included the doctor, school staff, child welfare officers, housing officers and RSPCA.

Following a case conference the mother agreed to co-operate, the animals were rehomed and the site visits followed up with improvements noticed each time. As a result of inter-agency communication, the lives of a neglected child and pets were changed for the better.

Links Group Achievements

Established in 2001, The Links Group membership includes the Association of Chief Police Officers, Blue Cross, British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), British Veterinary Association (BVA), Dogs Trust, Intervet UK Ltd, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Paws for Kids, Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Refuge, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ScottishSPCA), Women’s Aid, The Young Abusers Project, Wood Green Animal Centre and the British Veterinary Nurse Association.

A great deal has been achieved since the Group’s inception including:

• Protocols for information sharing are being explored to allow cross-reporting between the police and child and animal protection organisations.

• Pet fostering schemes have been established in many areas, for example Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project in London and in Yorkshire and similar schemes from the RSPCA and ‘Paws for Kids’, to enable victims of domestic violence to leave home without fear of their animals being harmed.

• The development and distribution of comprehensive and informative literature, such as the ‘Understanding the Links’ and ‘UK Pet Fostering Services for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence’ leaflets to communicate the facts.

• An RSPCA inspector training programme has been established with the NSPCC to encourage greater cross-reporting.

• The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Guide to Professional Conduct now contains a section on ‘Animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence. The section gives advice on breaching confidentiality under certain circumstances and contains a link to the NSPCC booklet ‘Understanding the Links’.

A programme of veterinary undergraduate training days, tackling the subject of animal abuse and non-accidental injury has been established and implemented annually at veterinary colleges throughout the UK by animal health company, Intervet, one of the founding organisations involved in The Links Group.