In this first blog in a series of six co-authors Di Turgoose and Dr Ruth E. McKie outline their recent (2019) work on pets/companion animals and domestic violence and abuse. In essence Ruth and Di have started a conversation about, and have called into question the idea of ‘persons’ specifically who and what counts as a victim/survivor in domestic violence and abuse ‘cases’.

Pets/companion animals now play an important role in a western society household. Indeed, there are more households in the UK that have a pet/ companion animal, than have children. In 2018, a total of 45% of 13 million households in the United Kingdom had a pet/companion animal (https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2019) ). 26% of these were dogs, 18% cats, and the rest included horses and/or other forms of small animals, reptiles and birds. Unfortunately, pets/companion animals also make up households/families where there is evidence of domestic violence and abuse.  It is at the intersection of  pets and domestic violence and abuse  where our research interest as activist, pracademic, victimologist, criminologist and feminist scholars located in the domain of social sciences and criminal justice practice lies.

Evidence has existed for decades including Fitzgerald’s  initial and subsequent research in the early noughties indicating that domestic violence and abuse survivors  (if they do indeed survive) do not leave, have delayed leaving, or have returned to a domestically abusive and violent relationship because of a concern for their companion animals/pets’ safety and welfare (You can read some of Fitzgerald’s work here e.g. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/016059760703100405) This means that for many victims/survivors, they feel that they cannot leave/escape/flee violence and abuse. This in part, is because of a lack of appropriate protection and intervention strategies and resources for their beloved pets/companion animals, despite the best efforts of both the specialist domestic violence sector and animal welfare agencies.  It is evident to us in our own observational practice that the situation today remains relatively constant and unchanged.

This poses some important research questions that remain unanswered or underdeveloped. These we have felt compelled to pursue since we the authors of this blog first met as academics working at the interface of criminology and victimology in the Community and Criminal Justice Division at De Montfort University. One important question is why when we appear, especially given the above figures, to be a ‘nation of pets lovers’ in the ‘UK,’ that the provision for the safety and well- being of pets is not given more priority per se? Moreover, why are companion animals/pets appear to be largely relegated to a ‘risk flag’ indicator of inter-human abuse in agencies with responsibility for ‘dealing with’ domestic violence ‘cases.’ This is especially problematic given what we know about the heightened risk of homicide (given the gendered nature of domestic violence and abuse read femicide) when a victim/survivor is considering leaving/fleeing?  Vexed and perplexed about the lack of co-ordinated attention to the issue of pets/companion animals and domestic violence and abuse, we have embarked on a number of research projects and organised engagement events on the phenomenon in an effort to call for the starting and the re-starting of conversations locally, nationally and internationally on the issue of pets/companion animals  and domestic violence and abuse.

From the outset, it is important for us to be clear that what we call for in domestic violence and abuse studies, practice and thinking is not to merely shift the concept of family domestic violence and abuse/coercive control to include pets/companion animals. Rather we contend that, we must in fact shift towards seeing animals, and thus pets/companion animals, as ‘somebody’ that can/should be treated as an independent being. In our view, animals possess agency and person hood in their own right, not simply the property of or as secondary to humans as a speciesist lens would afford. This will require a pivotal paradigm shift in the way society currently thinks and acts about our relationship with animals, if we are to achieve a whole system change to end violence against animals, and in this specific case, pets/companion animals which includes in domestic violence and abuse settings.

To this end, we will be exploring over the course of three further blogs the development of our ideas which demonstrate our success locally, nationally and internationally with regard impact and reach this summer about our work on pets/companion animals and domestic violence and abuse.  A journey that started with a conversation in the office concerning the poster (see insert above) on display on one of our desks by Juno Women’s Aid (previously known as Women’s Aid Integrated Services W.A.I.S.) and has culminated, thus far with an invite from the Mayor of Oslo in Norway to the City Hall, the location of the prestigious Nobel peace prize presentation each year and towards some potential collaborative working with others.

We will be posting  further blogs on this site and would welcome contact regarding our work which is continuing at speed.

Di Turgoose is a Teacher Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the Community and Criminal Justice Division at DMU.  Di is a pracademic with 20 years direct experience of working within the Criminal Justice System with perpetrators and victims of crime especially related to sex offending and domestic abuse.  She is a subject expert in domestic abuse and lead on related research informed modules alongside guest lecturing for colleagues on her specialism. Di co convenes the Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence Research Network at DMU. You can contact Di on di.turgoose@dmu.ac.uk or via twitter @pracademiccrime

Dr Ruth E. McKie is a lecturer in the Division of Community and Criminal Justice at DMU. Ruth completed her PhD in 2018 exploring climate change denial and criminology.  She is a subject expert in Environmental Crime and Harm, conducting research in this field exploring various crimes such as environmental crime and animal abuse. You can contact Ruth on ruth.mckie@dmu.ac.uk or via twitter @ruthmckie1

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If you feel you might be interested in submitting a guest blog for us please contact di.turgoose@dmu.ac.uk in the first instance to discuss this.