34% of residents at the Urban Resource Institute (URI), a group of domestic violence shelters in New York, report that partners harmed their pets while they were in an abusive relationship. As many as 48 percent of domestic violence victims stay in abusive situations because they don’t want to leave their pet behind.* They fear that the abuser might harm the animal if there’s no one there to protect it—a fear that, sadly, is well-founded, as pets are easy targets for abuse. 71% of callers to URI’s shelter hotline indicate they’d like to bring their pets to live with them.
No surprise there. It’s widely known that abusers attack family pets outright and also as a means of threatening family members. For children who have witnessed or experienced abuse and have been forced to leave their home and personal belongings, losing contact with a cherished pet is yet another source of trauma.
My aunt was married to a man who abused her for years. When he threw her dog against a wall in the presence of her twin brother, the brother immediately rehomed the dog at my grandparent’s ranch.
This was in the days when you simply did not speak of domestic violence or marital discord. My aunt had a disability, was financially dependent upon her husband, and had no way out. It was only years later that we realized what she’d gone through. All of the classic signs were there: he was cold, controlling and demeaning, he isolated her from her close friends and family, abused the family pet, refused to allow her to drive.
Now it’s 50 years later, and victims of domestic violence can escape the horror of life with an abuser by going to a domestic violence shelter. Unfortunately, this usually means leaving their pets behind. Boarding pets is prohibitively expensive and usually not an option.
And women are not the only victims. A gentleman at our church was brutally abused by his wife. Once a fit, robust bicyclist who pedaled across whole states, he is now blind and crippled with cauliflower ears from the beatings. His ex-wife was sent to prison.
At Purina’s Better with Pets summit, URI president Nathaniel Fields told a room full of fanatical pet lovers how URI and Purina hope to spread the availability of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. Already, URI and Purina have built pet havens in three of URI’s New York City area shelters with more on the way.
One of the highlights of Purina’s Better with Pets summit was when I helped assemble care packages to go out to furry residents of URIPALS — each box contained a collar, blanket, treats, food, toys and a tee for mom. A heartfelt handwritten note was included in each. Warm-and-fuzzies filled the room.
You Can Help Pass the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act
There is legislation pending in Congress that could help pets in domestic violence situations across the country.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation to help the estimated one-third of domestic violence victims who prolong their abusive relationships out of concern for the wellbeing of their pets. The bill is H.R. 1258, and has 49 original cosponsors, and is supported by local and national groups working to end domestic violence and animal abuse.
Contacting your elected officials to encourage passage of this legistation is quick and easy via a form on the Humane Society of the United States’ website.
It’s hard to eliminate domestic violence, but we can make it possible for more women and children to leave those situations and realize they can live lives free of trauma, with pets in tow. Fill out the form to encourage Congress to get off their partisan butts and pass the Act.
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*Frank Ascione, Ph.D. , Utah State University, 1997, 1998
THE FINE PRINT: Purina Pet Care sponsored Mousebreath’s attendance at #BetterWithPets. Mousebreath has been an enthusiastic consumer of Purina products for over 50 years and would never support a company or products with which we are not thoroughly in love. #LetsLiveBig #spons