Victims of domestic violence throughout the U.S. will continue to face serious risks of harm if safety options are not increased for people and their pets
A recent article in the Huffington Post by Animal Welfare Editor, Arin Greenwood advocated that if we want to help more victims of domestic violence find safety we need to allow people to bring their pets with them to pet-friendly domestic violence shelter . That’s a conclusion she shared from a report released recently by the nonprofit Urban Resource Institute.
In 2012, Urban Resource Institute (URI), an organization that provides individualized, comprehensive programs for domestic violence survivors, recognized that pet owners who were survivors of domestic violence were not being adequately served. Specifically, there were no pet-friendly domestic violence shelter in New York City and few nationally that allowed survivors of domestic violence to bring their pets with them when going into a shelter. As a result, survivors had to face the nearly impossible choice of abandoning their pets or entering shelter. This issue forced many survivors to stay in abusive situations, risking their own lives rather than separating from their pets.
INSIGHTS FROM PET OWNERS AND SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
“Studies have shown that when a survivor attempts to leave their abusive partner they are at the greatest risk of being killed or seriously injured (Campbell, 1995; J. Campbell et al., 2003; McFarlane et al., 1999). When a survivor of domestic violence owns a pet, further risks and complications may arise, as abusers frequently use the threat of violence or acts of violence against a pet as a means to control the survivor (Favor & Strand, 2007; Flynn, 2000; Hardesty, Khaw, Ridgway, Weber, & Miles, 2013).
Of pet owners who called URI’s emergency shelter hotline, 30% indicated their pet had been threatened when asked, “Has your abuser threatened to harm your pets?” Abusers target animals as well as their human partners, showing similar patterns of violence toward both pet and owner.
Survivors may face further abuse when they try to protect their pets. Of pet owners who called the hotline, 24% stated they had been threatened when asked, “Has your abuser threatened to hurt you if you protected your pet(s)?” Pets often end up subjected to similar abuse as their owners in domestic violence situations. Naturally, survivors want to protect their pets, who are part of their family and are vital supports for many survivors as they cope with abuse (Flynn, 2000). Of pet owners who called the hotline, 12% stated their abuser hurt them while protecting their pet when asked, “Has your abuser hurt you while you were trying to protect your pet?”
In addition to threatening the survivor when they try to protect a pet, abusers frequently harm a pet directly. According to URI’s resident satisfaction survey, of URI residents who had a pet at any point while in an abusive relationship, 34% said their abusive partner inflicted physical harm on their pets.
Pets are greatly affected by being in abusive homes and may undergo personality or behavioral changes due to the stress of living in a violent home. Many URIPALS program participants said they noticed changes in their pet’s behavior while they were in their abusive situations. Pets are perceptive to when their owners are in danger, and this stress has an impact on them, too.
Faced with these terrible threats and violence towards themselves and their pets, many survivors make the decision to leave. Although some pet owners fleeing domestic violence are able to give their pets to family members or friends, many have nowhere to turn and are faced with the devastating possibility of surrendering their pets. Many survivors and their children rely on the comfort of their beloved pets as they recover from the trauma of domestic violence, making this decision to surrender that more difficult. This is where we identified an important need for co-sheltering services. Of pet owners who called URI’s emergency shelter hotline, 44% indicated they would like assistance in finding a safe place for their pet, and 71% indicated they would like their pet to reside in pet-friendly domestic violence shelter with them.”