Domestic violence comes in many forms, and that can include cruelty to animals. In fact, animal abuse is a strong indicator of other criminal activity, including violence against people. It's not uncommon for an abuser to use their partners' animal companion as a tool for control and manipulation. By harming or threatening to harm the animal, the abuser may be able to coerce their victim into keeping silent. Research has found that between 71% and 83% of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners also abused or killed the family pet. Since most shelters don't allow animals, this puts victims in a difficult position. Some may even choose to stay in a dangerous situation out of fear for their pet's safety.
As awareness of this issue spreads, more options are being made available to people who are trying to escape an abusive home. A shelter for victims of domestic violence in Vancouver, WA announced in June that it plans to expand its facilities to accommodate residents with pets. The Clark County YWCA, in partnership with the Humane Society of Southwest Washington and the Mill Plain Animal Hospital, received a $5,600 grant, which it will use to provide supplies and veterinary care for its residents' pets, as well as training for the shelter's staff.
Due to health regulations and space limitations, domestic violence shelters that can accept pets may be hard to find. But no one should have to choose between escaping an unstable home and keeping their pets, which is why facilities that are equipped to take in animals, such as animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and private kennels are partnering with domestic violence shelters across America to provide alternatives. This can include temporary boarding, or finding a foster family for the animal, as well as helping victims create a plan to safely leave a violent home. The Humane Society of the United States has also compiled a directory of shelters that do allow animals.
Part of helping a victim of domestic violence rebuild their life is making sure they're protected from their former abuser. Unfortunately, most domestic violence cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, which results in lighter sentences for offenders. The strong link between animal cruelty and domestic violence means that enacting harsher laws for animal abusers could have a direct impact on cases of domestic violence. In Oregon, for example, a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty may become a felony charge when carried out in the presence of a minor. Taking crimes against animals seriously is a key factor in creating safer communities.
If you have concerns about your safety, or the safety of your loved ones, please reach out. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233, or online between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.