Domestic violence victims who decide to leave abusive partners may be concerned about the welfare of their pets when pets may not accompany them to new living arrangements. Some victims may be able to leave their pets with relatives, friends, or neighbors, or if they can afford it, board their pets, but other victims may have to leave their pets behind. Concern over the welfare of their pets may affect victims’ decisions about leaving or staying with abusive partners. For example, some women victims delay entering domestic violence shelters because most will not accept pets, and victims are reluctant to leave pets with an abusive partner who may already have threatened or actually harmed these pets. Collaborative programs, between domestic violence agencies and animal welfare organizations, now exist in many communities and provide temporary shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims.
Research in the United States, Canada, and Australia has documented the prevalence of animal/ pet abuse perpetrated by batterers and reported by women who seek refuge at domestic violence shelters. A significant minority of these women report that concern for their pets’ welfare affected their decisions about whether or not to leave abusive partners and in some cases delayed their seeking refuge for periods up to two months. The strong attachment that these women and their children, if present, have for their pets makes concern over leaving them behind a potential obstacle to seeking safety. Fear about pets’ welfare is prompted by batterers’ threats to harm animals if partners leave and by cases where pets have already been harmed or in some cases killed by batterers. Women reporting these concerns usually indicate that their children, if present, have been exposed to animal or pet abuse. Having to leave pets behind can be emotionally distressing to domestic violence victims and their children.
Awareness of this issue has led to programs that shelter pets of domestic violence victims during the time that victims participate in domestic violence programs. Typically, these programs are collaborative efforts by domestic violence agencies and humane societies, animal welfare agencies, or veterinarians. The programs are offered at minimal or no cost to domestic violence victims and provide care and housing for pets either at humane society facilities, veterinary clinics, or in the homes of pet foster care providers. For safety reasons, foster care providers are carefully screened for their own history of pet care and are provided extensive guidelines on confidentiality and safety issues. For example, the identity of foster care providers is usually not given to pet owners since some batterers threaten to find and harm animals to coerce domestic violence victims to return home.
Although a national directory of pet sheltering programs for domestic violence victims does not yet exist, information about the availability of such programs in specific communities can be obtained from domestic violence agencies or animal welfare organizations.
- Ascione, F. R. (2000). Safe havens for pets: Guidelines for programs sheltering pets for women who are battered. Logan, UT: Author. Retrieved from http://www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/ascione_safe_havens.pdf
- Kogan, L. R., McConnell, S., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., & Jansen-Lock, P. (2004). Crosstrails: A unique foster program to provide safety for pets of women in safehouses. Violence Against Women, 10, 418–434.
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