By: Lisa Andersen
When thinking about incidents of domestic violence you may not always consider the impact this violence has on animals that are in the home, or what role those animals play in the abuse. Domestic violence advocates are increasingly aware of the strong link between domestic violence and animal abuse. With approximately 80 million American homes with pets, and 70% of homes with children under the age of 6 have at least one pet, household pets are an integral part of many American homes.
Today, pets are considered part of our families. They are a source of love and support, teach our children about responsibility, and often serve as emotional support. Our pets live with us, love us, and protect us. However, sometimes they can be used against us and this is too often the case in abusive homes. Animals can be used by abusers to reinforce power and control over someone, to terrorize or frighten them, eliminate a source of support and comfort, or force a survivor to return home after they leave.
Domestic violence survivors may delay leaving their abuser or even to choose to stay out of concern for their animal’s welfare. In fact, nearly 50% of survivors have delayed leaving abusive relationships out of fear of harm to their animals. Some survivors report even living in their cars with their pets rather than leaving them behind. It’s also estimated that about 71% of pet owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported witnessing animal abuse.
Additionally, children in abusive homes may observe harm inflicted not only upon a parent or caregiver but also on a beloved pet. This traumatic experience can drastically increase the likelihood that a child will see this behavior as normal, and that they may adopt this behavior in their own lives. Specifically, children who are exposed to domestic violence are three times more likely to abuse animals. Indeed, the safety of a pet in an abusive home has lasting implications.
So what can we do to change this?
Given that animal abuse is closely related to domestic violence, the need to increase and expand services offered to survivors of abuse is great. Thus, domestic violence organizations across the country are creating more inclusive services that widens our lens, expanding out beyond the needs of survivors to include their pets. Domestic violence advocates are partnering with veterinarians, animal shelters, humane societies, and other animal services in their communities to ensure that both survivors AND their animals have a safe place to stay.
One organization that is working to help accomplish this is RedRover. RedRover offers a variety of programs that help with the financial needs of sheltering and caring for pets, as well as provide trainings on the importance of the animal/human bond. They offers financial grants that can assist with animal boarding costs while a survivor is in a shelter, and, also support domestic violence organizations to create safe spaces for sheltering pets. This is especially important when considering the positive impact that animals have on the healing process. The ability for domestic violence organizations to meet the needs of both the survivor and their animal is important for reinforcing the importance of safety to the survivor.
Safety Planning with Animals
There are several organizations which provide important resources to safety planning with survivors’ animals. RedRover has many resources for safety planning with animals and has on their website a list to other important resources. Additionally, the website A Safe Place for Pets provides links to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, as well as the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
Below are some safety planning points from the Animal Welfare Institute for domestic violence survivors with their pets in mind:
If you are planning to stay:
- Keep emergency provisions on hand for your pet in the event that your abuser with holds money.
- Keep the phone number of the nearest 24 hour emergency veterinarian
- Establish ownership of your pet by creating a paper trail (obtain a copy of your animal license, have all vet records put in your name)
If you are planning to leave:
- Find safe emergency shelter for your pet (your local DV organization may be able to help with this)
- Pack a bag for your pet that includes food, medicine, documents of ownership, health records, leash and collar, ID and rabies tags, carrier, toys, and bedding
If you have already left:
- Keep pets indoors whenever possible
- Don’t leave your pet alone outside
- Pick a safe route and time to walk your animal
- Don’t walk your pet alone
- Change your veterinarian
In some states it is even possible to file a protection order on behalf of your animal.
Safety planning can be stressful for survivors, especially when considering how to keep pets from being harmed. However, there are resources available online and in our community.