“Cruelty to Animals and Domestic Abuse”

Family Law issues and Animal Abuse go hand in hand. Just recently on May 19, 2011, Gary Eugene Denning from Trenton, Florida, located in Levy County, was arrested for domestic battery and cruelty to an animal.  ( Levy County Sheriff Blog: )  The domestic abuse charges stemmed from Mr. Denning getting upset with his brother-in-law over a small dent in Mr. Denning’s vehicle.  After hitting his brother-in-law in the chest and attempting to kick him, Mr. Denning decided to get back at his brother-in-law my directing his anger toward the family pet, a Golden Retriever.

When police arrived at the scene, the blood trail through the house was apparent. Mr. Denning allegedly struck the Golden Retriever with a machete several times severing the dog's spinal cord.  Denning's minor daughter was in the residence when the attack occurred. Unfortunately, the Golden Retriever had to be put down due to the wounds.

This is not the first case, and unfortunately it will not be the last case, where a domestic abuse instance merges with cruelty to the family pet. Not only has this been reported in the media but it has been documented through academia as well. In his article, Battered Women’s Reports of Their Partners’ and Their Children’s cruelty to Animals, Frank R. Ascion reports that a significant number of survivors of domestic violence state that their abusers also harmed, or threatened to harm, the family pet. (see online article at )

There are several reasons why animals end up getting hurt during family disturbances. One of those reasons is the abuser knows that the victims generally have strong feelings/connections to the pet. As a result, attacking the family pet indirectly hurts the victim and the point is made that the victim could, or more than likely will, be next. Another reason why the family pet is attacked is because the abusers know that the family pet will put up little or no resistance and cannot “contact” the authorities.  The family pet is a voiceless victim and under Florida Statute 828.12, Cruelty to Animals is a third degree felony, which under the Penalties Section, Florida Statute 775.082, carries a maximum sentence of five years and a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both. (

Although Florida recognizes animal cruelty as a crime, it is separate and distinct from Family Law; however, I feel a argument could be made based on the love families have for their pets and the correlation of animal cruelty to domestic abuse, that cruelty to animals is not as distinct issue as it is perceived to be in the law.  Even though it seems that penalties are harsh for Cruelty to Animals rarely do defendants face real consequences for their actions towards the family pets. I guess only time will tell what the consequences are for Mr. Denning’s alleged actions.