Companion animals can both protect against, and increase risk for, coercive control and abuse, yet have not been considered in existing UK COVID-19 reports of domestic abuse. This study aimed to explore the nature and frequency of animal-related calls received by UK domestic abuse helpline staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, examine any lockdown related changes, identify potential commonalities across helpline organisations, and explore perspectives about ongoing animal-related issues in the context of domestic abuse. Semi-structured virtual interviews were conducted with 11 domestic abuse helpline staff workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data were subjected to thematic analysis. The analysis revealed four overarching themes. Theme 1) Lockdown-related changes in the frequency and nature of animal-related calls received. Theme 2) Animals as tools for abuse during lockdown, with subthemes a) Manipulating the family-animal bond, and b) Fears over animal safety. Theme 3) Animals as barriers to refuge during lockdown, with subthemes, a) Lack of animal-friendly accommodation, b) Lack of social support systems, and c) Animals as coping mechanisms. Theme 4) Helpline staffs’ awareness of and links to animal friendly accommodation and fostering services. The findings can inform decision making regarding appropriate long-term support needs for multi-species families with complex needs, both during and post-pandemic.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

Cite as

Hawkins, R., Brodie, Z., Maclean, C. & McKinlay, J. 2022, '‘She couldn’t leave them… the perpetrator had threatened to burn them alive’: domestic abuse helpline calls relating to companion animals during the COVID-19 pandemic', Psychology, Crime and Law. https://doi.org/10.1080/1068316X.2022.2068551

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Last updated: 23 June 2022
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