Animal Abuse

When I was a teenager, my mother and I volunteered at domestic violence shelters. We painted and sculpted with children while their mothers received support to forge new lives. Every Saturday, energized kids raced to hug our legs and chatter about what we’d be creating together.

A decade later, my grief after the 2016 presidential election revived my motivation to protect women from violence and trauma. While finishing a graduate degree, I mentored sex trafficking victims and volunteered at an abortion clinic.

On what I thought was an unrelated topic, I also began caring about farmed animal welfare. The dairy calves on my college campus raced around their small pens when I visited them. Kept from their milk-producing mothers who cried for them in the barn, separated from their brothers who were killed for veal, the calves seemed eager for safety and love. They reminded me of the kids who used to hug my knees.

I have since come to understand that there is a link between domestic violence and animal abuse. In the 1970s, animal abuse was determined to be a predictor of abuse towards humans. Research finds that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to also harm other people; 89 percent of women who have companion animals during an abusive relationship report that their partners have threatened, harmed, or killed their animals as a tool of domestic abuse.

Links between animal abuse and domestic abuse are becoming more widely recognized.

While this legislation is important, a harmful disconnect remains: certain animals are protected from harm while the abuse of millions of others is accepted as normal and necessary. Doesn’t this sound familiar — a behavioral tendency that applies to how we treat people as well?

Farmed animals — 99 percent of which are on factory farms, focused on profit over welfare — face violence that is illegal for humans to enact against cats and dogs. Although the PACT Act states that humans cannot crush, drown, impale, or suffocate animals, it allows many exceptions, including animals farmed for food. Animal agriculture systems legally grind male chicks alive, boil chickens to death, impale hens, and shoot and suffocate cows.

I have found validation for my frustration in the words of sociologist Dr. Melanie Joy, who writes about carnism as the belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals but not others. In her book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” Joy argues that carnism normalizes violence against animals, creating society-wide dissociation and numbing effects. This is the kind of mentality that can enable abusers to more easily violate animals and people.

Until all forms of abuse are understood as belonging to the same web of inequalities, violence wrought out of convenience and numbed enablement will continue to keep that web in place. Respecting basic needs for all, including safety and love, is an important step towards a just future.

Lillie Gardner is a freelance writer and piano instructor. As a volunteer with Compassionate Action for Animals in Minneapolis, she is co-chair of Twin Cities Veg Fest and the social media coordinator for CAA’s humane education program, Bridges of Respect.