Finding Safety for Our Four-Legged Friends

For any pet owner that’s tossed a Frisbee in the park with their dog or taken a cat nap curled up beside their feline friend, it should come as no surprise that it’s not easy to just leave an animal behind. Pets can be like family — and if you’re contemplating leaving a bad relationship, the question of what will happen to your pet can become an important deciding factor.

Thankfully this topic is becoming more public in the news lately. A new law in Texas, for instance, ensures that pets can now be included in protective orders, and the Urban Resource Institute just became NYC’s first shelter to allow pets.

We know that there’s still progress to be made, though, because there’s an unmistakable correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse. In one study of domestic violence shelters across the country, 85.4 percent of shelter directors encountered cases in which victims disclosed animal abuse.

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A pet can often become a tool for an abusive partner to hold power and control in the relationship. By threatening or enacting violence against a pet, the abuser can further terrorize the victim, punish them and enforce submission.

Concern for the safety of pets is also a reason that many victims stay in an abusive relationship. There may be threats made against the wellbeing of their pets if they don’t stay, or they don’t know what will happen to the pets if they leave.

Safety Planning With Pets

If you’re creating a safety plan of your own to leave an abusive relationship, safety planning for your pets is important as well. Bring extra provisions for them, copies of their medical records and important phone numbers.

If possible, don’t leave pets alone with your abuser. If you’re planning on leaving, look for domestic violence shelters that accept pets or foster care programs at animal shelters. You can also talk to friends, family or your veterinarian about temporary care for your animal.

If you’ve had to leave your pet behind with the abusive partner, try to ask for assistance from law enforcement officials or animal control to see if they can intervene.

Take steps to prove ownership of your pet: have them vaccinated and license them with your town, ensuring that these registrations are made in your name (change them if they aren’t).

If you’re thinking about getting a protective order, know that some states allow pets to be a part of these.

If you’ve left your abuser, ensure the safety of your pet by changing veterinarians and avoid leaving pets outside alone.

What Loved Ones Can Do

The correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse is increasingly recognized by many individuals and organizations, so cross reporting of violence by law enforcement officials, vets, teachers, social workers and other professionals is becoming more common. Working together, these agencies can help one another become informed about possible abuse.

If you’re a friend or family member of someone who you suspect may be in an abusive relationship, noticeable animal abuse could be a further indication that there’s also intimate partner abuse. Begin by talking to them about the animal abuse and take steps to report it.

Resources and Further Reading:

  • A New York Times Article discusses what is referred to as “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome
  • The Animal Welfare Institute has the Safe Havens Mapping Project for Pets of Domestic Violence Victims, which maps shelters state by state that allow you to bring pets. If there is no listing for your area, call a local shelter and ask about temporary assistance for pets in domestic violence situations
  • If you’re thinking of placing your pet at a shelter, the Humane Society has a database of local locations and FAQ’s about shelters
  • Check the Pets website for local rescue groups and emergency vets
  • Organizations like Georgia-based Ahimsa House and Littlegrass Ranch in Texas offer advice for safety planning with animals, especially with non-traditional animals like horses that are more difficult to transport
  • RedRover offers different grant programs to enable victims to leave their batterers without having to leave their pets behind. The grants must be submitted by a shelter worker. You can also now search for shelter locations by zip code at