No one is safe in a violent home, not the people or the pets. There is a strong correlation between animal abuse, domestic violence, and use of weapons.
That’s what Assistant City Attorney Victoria VanNocken noticed in her work, and her colleague, domestic violence Victim Advocate Alyssa Shaw, provided the analysis that proved it.
In Seattle, between 2010 and 2018, 56 percent of those charged with injuring an animal had a history of domestic violence as well. More than one-third of those charged with injuring an animal also had weapons charges in their past. These statistics only include data from Washington, so the numbers could be higher if out-of-state charges were included.
When the two women joined forces with trial prosecutor Catherine Riedo, they formed FACET, the Family and Animal Cruelty Enforcement Team. It was created in 2019 and helps to cross train police and animal protection officers. All three volunteer extra time to provide the focus that these cases need.
They worked with Seattle police officers to alert them to signs of animal abuse when responding to reports of domestic violence. Animal protection officers were likewise trained to recognize the signs of human abuse when responding to reports of animal cruelty.
“It was about all of us being at the right place at the right time,” said Shaw. “We were working together every single day and our offices were right next to each other.”
Shaw’s job involves extreme risk protection orders involving firearms. She has been a domestic violence counselor and has seen women and children seeking protection at shelters along with their pets.
“The approach we take is that if there is violence in a home everyone’s at risk.”
There was evidence about the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, but Shaw’s analysis provided specific data about the connection in Seattle. Her research showed that the problem in Seattle mirrors the problem nationwide.
Riedo said that while the connection between the two crimes is not allowed to be made during the trial, the domestic violence defendant’s criminal history can be described at arraignment and at sentencing. She will say if animal protection officers have been involved with the defendant.
“The Animal Control Officers at the Seattle Animal Shelter go above and beyond to help people and their animals,” said Riedo. “If it’s a situation where resources may be an issue, their first step is always to offer help like pet food, access to veterinary care, and things like leashes and coats. But if an animal is being abused, Animal Control Officers will seek a search warrant from a judge to allow them to take custody of that animal.”
She is also worried about a lack of police officers to assist in dangerous cases.
“We need law enforcement help to serve warrants and animal cruelty cases could drop to the bottom of the list if there are not enough officers available,” said Riedo.
“During COVID we have seen domestic violence go through the roof, including domestic violence homicides. We fear that child abuse and animal abuse have increased in the past year because both of those thrive in isolation,” said Shaw. “Families have been stuck in unsafe situations at home during this time. It’s more important now than ever to talk about it.”
“Sometimes people might not be willing to talk about the abuse they’ve suffered but may be willing to come forward about animal abuse,” she said.
“Survivors of domestic violence are some of the smartest, most resilient people I have ever met the way they keep themselves safe,” she said. “They are experts in their own safety, and they will continue to do what they need to do to keep themselves, their children, and their animals safe. I am continually amazed at their resilience and creativity.”
And, like domestic violence, animal cruelty is not dependent on socio-economic class. For example, one case involved a tech worker openly abusing his dog.
While it is their jobs to prosecute those who commit such crimes, they encourage everyone to report violence against animals as quickly as they would report domestic violence.
“There is help available for both people and animals,” said Shaw. “The Animal Shelter can house animals for people escaping domestic violence. If you report your abuse to police you will get help from trauma-informed officers and prosecutors.”
More resources are needed to train officers and prosecute violent offenders. The women would like to provide FACET as a resource both regionally and nationally because many prosecutors deal with these types of cases. They also hope to help veterinarians recognize the signs of abuse, both human and animal.
“We want to address every facet of everyone affected and everyone involved in the cases and enable them to understand the connections,” said VanNocken.
If you see animal abuse or cruelty, please call the Animal Shelter at (206) 386-7387. To report domestic violence, please call 9-1-1.