If you, or anyone you know, have been the victim of domestic abuse, you know that the abuser will use any means necessary to try and control the situation. Things become complicated for victims with children. Neighbors and friends ask; “Why did she stay?” Often, children are used as hostages in domestic violence situations, and the partner of the abuser finds themselves powerless in their efforts to protect their loved ones.
Recent studies have exposed similar vulnerabilities in victims who own and love their pets. Fear for the safety of a beloved cat or dog can also be a weapon for abusers.
After all, most of us would walk through fire for our pets, wouldn’t we?
One woman admitted that her drug-abusing boyfriend would dangle her cherished cat out the window in order to scare her into doing whatever he wanted. As reported by The Huffington Post, when she ran to a neighboring apartment to escape, he set their apartment on fire with the cat inside. Sadly, the beloved cat was killed in the blaze.
It isn’t always a direct threat. Many people who consider their pets to be members of the family, worry intensely over what to do with their animals if they leave their abusive homes. People with dogs, cats, horses, even hamsters, snakes or rats will delay leaving, or refuse to go entirely if they can’t protect their beloved furry family members. Those delays can be torturous, or even fatal for the victims, both human and pet.
Emerging sometime in the mid 90s, and gaining in both popularity and numbers is a brand new kind sanctuary: Pet Friendly, Domestic Violence Abuse Shelters.
Michigan, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Texas and New York, to name a few, have broken barriers with various kinds of shelters based on the needs of their communities. The Women’s Center of Mid-Minnesota has housed dozens of cats and dogs over decades in a six-bedroom house in Brainerd.
In Texas, at a place called Littlegrass House, women can find shelter both for themselves and their horses.
In Los Angeles, the SPCA, as of 2014, has housed and cared for more than 330 pets since 1998, some from as far away as Florida.
Though there are more pet friendly shelters emerging every year, it still remains that many people are forced to give their pets up to foster homes, or worse, leave them with abusive partners. For example, one such shelter, The Urban Resource Institute (URI) has a co-sheltering program which was able to help 43 families with dogs, cats and other small critters in the past two years, but it has also had to turn away 47 pet owners owing to lack of space.
Of the domestic violence shelters in this country, only 3 percent have the ability to house pets, but legislation has been introduced, and awareness has grown.
Improvements can be quite simple: A turf-filled yard for easy cleaning, or a dog run in an adjoining alley.
The effect of having a beloved pet to snuggle with and knowing that they are safe can be therapeutic for victims of violence. It can also save lives. Every day in the US, 3 or more women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. We don’t have similar numbers for household pets and livestock, but we know now that they are affected.
Recent studies have found a correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse. Apparently child battery, spousal abuse and animal abuse seem to go hand in hand.
According to A.A.R.D.V.A.R.C., a respected resource collection organization: “Of 50 shelters surveyed about women and children escaping from domestic violence, 85% said that women in their shelter talked about pet abuse, 63% of children talked about pet abuse, and 83% said that they had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse.”
The numbers are really staggering. Perhaps, however, these statistics can be helpful. After all, knowledge is power.
A.A.R.D.V.A.R.C. recommends that victims of domestic abuse report early the incidents of animal abuse: “It helps to build your case for a restraining order to protect yourself and the rest of the family, and establishes a paper trail on the trend of violence from the abusive partner, and can start the ball rolling for your state crime victim compensation program to cover costs associated with abusive criminal action. It may be a key to stopping the escalation before it starts by involving law enforcement.
Also, these numbers are helping us to gain traction and awareness within shelter organizations. People are less likely to dismiss a person’s fear for their pets, and now, finally, there are some places for these folks to go with their “Fur People” and to keep them out of harms way.
Domestic violence is a big problem. It’s hard to believe that people would do the kinds of things they do to each other in the name of love. Many of us believe that our pets love us unconditionally. They never hold us hostage. Though they may wake us up too early, or knock over a lamp or a trash-can, they never treat us abusively and most of us would risk out lives to save them from danger. Information is power. People are finding better tools, via the internet and trained animal experts, to make our lives with our pets easier, safer and more enjoyable. The information we share about Pet Friendly Domestic Violence Shelters can save lives, both human and animal. The knowledge that these shelters are out there, and that they are increasing in numbers is a bright spot in the ugly reality of abuse.
Please give to your local animal shelters, animal protection organizations and women’s shelters. Spread the power of knowledge, and use your vote to help these organizations do their good work.
Resource: URI White Paper