PLENARY: Beyond the Violence Link


Dr. Michelle Lem, DVM, MSc, MSW Candidate, Founder and Director, Community Veterinary Outreach
Dr. Amy Fitzgerald, PhD, Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Windsor

Connecting Our Collective Vulnerability and the Human-Animal Bond

In considering the link between human and animal violence, vulnerability is often associated with the victims of violence. Yet, if we consider ourselves and all community members as critical to the solution to ending violence, we recognize that we all have shared vulnerability and responsibility. In thinking about this collective vulnerability, we must take notice of the broader structural (political, economic, social) and systemic factors that impact us as individuals, communities and as a society as a whole. In this interdisciplinary session, we will discuss some of these influencing factors through a One Health lens and how they shape our values and beliefs, as well as guide our actions.

Key Learnings:

  1. The violence link through a One Health lens.
  2. Community supports and resources.
  3. How we can all be part of social change.

Understanding and Mitigating the Unique Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship Faced by Women with Companion Animals

This presentation details the findings of surveys conducted with clients and staff in shelters for abused women in several provinces. Among the client sample, maltreatment of a pet by a partner significantly increased the desire to leave the relationship, even when statistically controlling for the length of the relationship and the frequency of intimate partner violence the woman endured. Unfortunately, most of the sample did not have someone with whom they could entrust their pet. As a result, over half of the sample reported that they delayed leaving their abuser due to concern for their pets’ safety. Sixty per cent ultimately left their pets with their abuser when they fled to the shelter, and one-third reported considering returning to their abusive partner specifically because he had their pets.

Approximately three-quarters of the shelters these women were in had programs in place to assist with finding shelter for pets, but we found that nearly half of the women were not advised of these programs, and one-quarter were only advised once they were already in the shelter. The findings indicate that the presence of pets complicates the decision to leave an abusive partner, and that targeted and publicized services are needed.

Key Learnings:

  1. How the presence of pets and animal maltreatment can impact help-seeking behaviour among abused women.
  2. The types of programs that shelters for abused women in Canada have in place to assist women with companion animals, their advantages, and limitations.
  3. Recommendations that emerge from the research findings.


Dr. Amy Fitzgerald, PhD is an Associate Professor in Criminology and in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. She is also the Director of the newly formed Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group ( Her research focuses on the intersection of harms (criminal and otherwise) against people, animals, and the environment. Her most recent research on the co-occurrence of animal abuse and intimate partner violence has been published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Anthrozoos, and Violence and Victims. Her most recent book, Animals as Food: (Re)connecting Production, Processing, Consumption, and Impacts, was published in 2015. She is currently working on a book examining the potential of coalition building between the animal advocacy and environmental movements.

Dr. Michelle Lem is a 2001 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), and the founder of Community Veterinary Outreach, a registered charity with programs across Canada that improve the health of homeless individuals and their pets through a "One Health" model of care. By offering human health services and health education alongside preventative veterinary care, Community Veterinary Outreach provides innovative access to both veterinary and human health care for at-risk populations. Michelle holds a MSc in population medicine from OVC through her study of the effects of pet ownership on street-involved youth. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and academic textbooks. Michelle is an Ashoka fellow, serves on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Committee and is currently pursuing her MSW degree at Carleton University.

Read our interview with Dr. Amy Fitzgerald here!