It was reported by news sources yesterday afternoon that Hollie, a 13y old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was allegedly taken from her owner’s garden in the UK and later dumped, partially decapitated, on the doorstep of the owners home. The incident is being investigated jointly by the R.S.P.C.A. and West Midlands Police and their investigators are requesting help from the public to track down the person responsible.
Sadly, Hollie is one of innumerable canine victims of violence. Often the result of domestic violence incidents, either directly or in retaliation of a partner’s ‘misdemeanours’. Some research has been conducted over recent decades into the links between animal cruelty and inter-human violence. As Heather Fraser and Nic Taylor say in their book, Companion Animals & Domestic Violence, (2019), ‘When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk.’
The biggest theme to emerge from research is that the large majority of animal abusers are male;75% in fact (Grugan, 2017), and out of the 75%, 72% of them abused dogs. Let’s take a minute to think about that. If you consider the millions of dogs kept as companions in peoples’ homes, that is a vast number of dogs being abused.
80% of these incidents occurred within the family home, where the dog is supposed to feel safe and comfortable. 20% of them were attacked in retaliation for someone else’s behaviour.
In the majority of cases where the dog died, they were shot or stabbed. Now the interesting part of this is that in nearly all the cases where the dog died, it was as a result of a domestic violence incident. This information was usually excluded from the news reports though, so all that was reported was…’man kills dog’ but the fact it was part of a domestic violence incident was not mentioned, suggesting that there may some bias in the news industry reporting.
‘So what?’ you may ask. This was probably a domestic that went badly for the dog then. Well it could be and mostly likely is, however, in the late nineties and early 2000’s researchers examined the links between childhood animal cruelty and aggressive criminal acts. In 1998, Lockwood & Church discovered that 36% of serial murderers killed and tortured animals in childhood, while 46% did so in adolescence. Perpetrators of sexually violent crimes reported high levels of animal cruelty too. More recently, in a study of 354 serial murderers, found that 21% had committed animal cruelty (Wright and Tinsley, 2003).
Animal cruelty and violence towards humans is intrinsically linked and therefore, we should be concerned about Hollie’s death.
And what about Hollie? Her owner said that she and her son have been traumatised by Hollie’s death and the gruesome discovery of her body. You are inclined to feel sympathy towards them, yet they say Hollie was left outside in the garden when they went out. There are so many factors that may have contributed to her death; was she shut out because she was destructive when left? Had she started to have ‘accidents’ in the home due to her age? Did her separation anxiety cause her to bark and howl for hours outside, annoying neighbours? Could this be enough to make someone so angry, that they would do this to her?
It is all subjective supposition on my part I know, but the real victim here is Hollie in ways I suspect she may have had to tolerate for a while, culminating in her brutal killing.
I feel for the owner dealing with the shock and loss; the police will state that she is the injured party as Hollie was her ‘property’. I feel for any other dogs that may be in the family, that will grieve her too and may have witnessed her murder. But most of all I feel for the dog that did not ask to be shut outside, that did not ask to be left and that lost her life when she was old and vulnerable.
Understanding animal cruelty is incredibly important yet many animal professionals spend little time learning about animals as victims and how to respond to it. The impact of abuse and witnessing abuse affects behaviour enormously. Ask yourself if you would know how to recognise the signs of non-accidental injuries? Would you know where and how to report animal cruelty if you suspected it? If the answer is no, then it is time to reflect on what you may need to do to help prevent more lives like Hollie’s been tragically lost.