Domestic Abuse and Pets: a Strong Link
Pet abuse is one of four factors indicating that someone might start abusing human family members, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University. And many abused people refuse to leave their homes for shelters if their pets can’t come along, for the fear that the animal will be injured or worse without their protection.
“Many times, women won’t leave their homes because their pets are there,” says Laura Maloney, senior vice president of anticruelty at the New York City ASPCA. “They know that if they leave, the pet will be killed, tortured, or otherwise harmed. It’s a displacement of the abuser’s anger from the person who has left to the animal.”
Thankfully, more domestic violence programs and shelters are teaming up with animal shelters, veterinarians and animal welfare organizations to provide “safe haven” programs. These programs foster a pet while a domestic violence victim gets settled into a new home and then reunite the person with their animal.
“Most shelters aren’t in the boarding business,” says Maloney. “They’re really there to take animals and re-home them. These are very specialized programs, and social service agencies can reach out to them. Ultimately, the goal is to reunite the pet and the owner.”
Many programs, which vary state by state, offer abused pets foster homes, either in kennels or with host families.
“A number of safe haven programs have been established, and they take different forms,” says Mary Lou Randour, the professional outreach coordinator for the Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign of the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. Over the last 10 years, she says, more and more safe haven programs have cropped up, and their link with local social service agencies and shelters has strengthened.
“If you call a domestic violence shelter, most ask if you have a pet that needs to be cared for,” she says. “And the National Coalition for Domestic Violence has a directory of those services that’s updated every four years.”
The Humane Society of the United States also keeps an online directory of such programs. Beyond helping the pet, reporting violence against pets can open the door for professionals to identify and help other family members who may be victims of domestic abuse.
Safe haven programs foster a pet while a domestic violence victim gets settled into a new home and then reunite the person with their animal.
“Call the local law enforcement agency, animal control or whoever reports animal cruelty in your state,” says Maloney to people who suspect animal abuse in a home. “Sometimes those people will go to the scene, see the abused animal and also see what else is going on in the home. They can identify child abuse or domestic violence and then report that to the appropriate local agency.”
Randour agrees. “Animal control agents are trained to be nonconfrontational and serve in a more educational capacity,” she says. “They can knock on the door and have a chat with the people there, and if they’re good, they can look around the house and see what’s going on. That’s happening more and more — animal control officers have been trained to recognize the signs of domestic violence.”
Kim Fernandez is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md., who regularly contributes to many association and trade publications.