By Dr. Becker
Experts believe abuse of the family pet is often the first observable sign that domestic violence (DV) is occurring in a household. And in fact, investigation of reported animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble.
In the Majority of Domestic Violence Situations, Pets in the Home Have Also Been Injured or Killed
According to the American Humane Association (AHA), almost 70 percent of women with pets who seek refuge at a women's shelter report that their abuser had injured or killed a family pet as an act of revenge, or as a means of psychological control. Close to 90 percent of acts of violence against family pets are done in front of the women in the home, and 75 percent are done in front of children. Tragically, over 30 percent of female DV victims report that their children had also hurt or killed animals.
Per the AHA:
"Abusers kill, harm, or threaten children's pets to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force them to remain silent about abuse. Disturbed children kill or harm animals to emulate their parents' conduct, to prevent the abuser from killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions on another victim."
When animal cruelty investigators go out on a call, they often find that the batterer has not only abused the family pet, but also the children and other adults in the household.
Most Domestic Violence Shelters Can't Accommodate Family Pets
According to Joy Wagner, founder of Peace for Pets, in an interview with Ohio.com, "Frequently, [victims] won't talk about their own abuse, but they will talk about the abuse their animals face." Peace for Pets is an Ohio animal rescue group that provides shelter for pets of victims of domestic violence. This allows DV victims to enter a women's shelter without leaving their dog, cat or other pet in the hands of their abuser.
Most DV shelters and safe houses aren't set up to accommodate animals, and many women living with the threat of domestic violence won't leave because they don't want to abandon their pet to their abuser.
Peace for Pets, a Non-Profit Animal Rescue in Ohio, Has Bridged the Gap
Peace for Pets, which is located in Stark County, Ohio, has a network of foster homes that can keep any type of animal safe for up to two months while the human victims make other living arrangements and are able to return for their pets. In rare cases, a DV victim may no longer want the pet or can no longer keep it, and those pets are adopted out immediately to new homes.
When the rescue gets a call from a domestic violence shelter, workers move quickly to pick up the animal either from the victim, or from the home with the assistance of a relative, family friend, or even by court order and with a police escort. The pet is taken immediately to a veterinarian for an examination, quarantined for up to three days, and then placed in one of over a dozen available foster homes.
If You're Living with the Threat of Domestic Violence and You're Worried About Your Pet…
According to the American Humane Association:
- Make sure your pet is vaccinated against rabies, and put all records showing your ownership of the animal in a safe place you can quickly access.
- Make a plan ahead of time for the safety and welfare of your pet. Don't leave the animal with your abuser. Locate a women's shelter with a "safe haven" foster care program for pets of victims of domestic violence.
- If there are no DV shelters in your area that have such a program, make other arrangements to have your pet temporarily cared for by a relative, friend, veterinarian or animal rescue organization or shelter.