The HAV-Link

(Human Animal Violence)

Coalition of Waterloo Region


The triad of domestic violence, child abuse/neglect and animal abuse forms the cruelty link. There has been significant research on the cruelty link; most of which has been conducted in the US. Twenty-one states have legislation that enables judges to include animals in domestic violence protection?from?abuse orders.  There is no such legislation in Canada – yet.

Canada is behind in addressing the “Link” issue, however efforts continue in a few jurisdictions (Calgary,Ottawa) and now Waterloo Region with the inception of the HAV-Link Coalition of Waterloo Region.

At this time the membership for the HAV-Link Coalition of Waterloo Region includes the following agencies/individuals: Women’s Crisis Services, Family and Children’s Services, KW Humane Society, Supportive Housing of Waterloo (SHOW), WLU Faculty of Social Work, Lawyer John Morscher and Veterinarian Shane Bateman (who is also affiliated with the Ontario Vet College).  Further members are being individually selected from a variety of other pertinent agencies such as: Waterloo Regional Police Services, Public Health, Ontario Works, the key counselling agencies, Crown Attorney’s office, and so forth.   The composition of the Coalition is critical to its long-term success and needs to include committed individuals with decision making authority.

HAV-Link Coalition consists of 3 components: 1) The TAILS (Treating Animals Investing in Lives Successfully) Veterinary Care Program.  This program provides pro bono preventive veterinary health clinics for animals of the homeless, those at high risk of homelessness, and the vulnerably housed such as abused women. Clients for this program are referred from community partnerships that include area homeless shelters and an array of social service agencies.  The first clinic is scheduled for December 1st in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Work at WLU where the clinic will be held.  2) Community Training and Education Program that includes the following objectives:  a) to understand the cruelty link (humans and animals) b) to enhance workers’ interview and investigative techniques c) to learn what the research says about the Link and d) to explore future community collaborations.  The first training session is scheduled for November 7 and is open to social service agencies, police, etc. from Waterloo Region. 3) Community Fostering Program (this initiative is pending and will take some time to develop). The objectives are to provide foster homes for companion animals of individuals temporarily unable to care for them: such as; abused women at Anselma House, individuals in hospital and/or incarcerated individuals.

Evidence of the cruelty link is not in question, as it has been proven through world-wide research.  The task for us here in Waterloo Region is to develop systematic training and education Region wide.  The pertinent agencies have already demonstrated their commitment to this initiative.  We will only be successful by working in collaboration and toward solutions. Our responsibility to humans and animals alike requires comprehensive interventions that assess the entire family system.  Violence cannot be addressed through silos and short sighted lenses. Only through collaborative and deliberate efforts, will we be able to make a difference in the lives of many, and work toward the eradication of violence, abuse and neglect in Waterloo Region. We know through research efforts that often children and woman will more openly speak of abuse against their animal(s), rather than themselves.  This line of questioning becomes essential, in every intervention, in order to unravel the layers of abuse within the family system.  It then becomes our responsibility to incorporate treatment plans that encompass all the dimensions of cruelty within the family.

Efforts need to be geared toward the following:

* Train the entire community on the cruelty link; with attention given to service providers such as; shelter workers, child welfare workers, mental health workers, counsellors/therapists, police, probation, crown attorneys, judges, veterinarians, social workers, social work students and animal protection workers

* Add to agency intake forms, questions for clients about the occurrence of human and animal cruelty in their homes

* Enhance child welfare training so that investigations include observation and questioning about animal cruelty

* Enhance animal protection training so that investigations include observation and questioning about child abuse/neglect

* Train veterinarians to recognize non-accidental injuries and provide them immunity from civil liability when reporting animal abuse

* Include pets in protective/no contact orders

* Develop fostering programs so that women readily seek safe shelter, knowing their pets are also safe

* Develop cross reporting systems and widely share this information with various arms of law enforcement and social service agencies

* Conduct research regarding agency cross reporting and the cruelty link

* Continue to expand the HAV-Link Coalition of Waterloo Region in conjunction with what the research informs.


In Waterloo Region, we have engaged the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University to explore research opportunities and methodologies on the cruelty “Link”.


For further information, please contact Mary Zilney, CEO of Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region at: