GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV) – There is a well documented link between domestic violence and animal abuse. Perpetrators of domestic violence often use the emotional ties between a spouse or family member and their pets as a means to control them. If an abuser sees a close bond between their victim and a pet, harm or threatening to harm the pet is often used to intimidate, threaten and control the victim. Harming them in front of their spouse or children to “show what can happen to you” is an effective means of ensuring cooperation and even silence. Battered victims hesitate to tell anyone what is happening because they want to protect their pet. Twelve separate studies, according to the ASPCA, have shown that 18 to 48 percent of battered women delay leaving an abusive relationship for fear of what might happen to their animals.
Those women who delay leaving due to worrying about the safety of their animals, often return shortly after finding the strength to leave, because they have concern for their pet’s welfare. Shelters have traditionally not allowed pets to stay with women and their children who come to them for protection. They now are recognizing that domestic violence victims feel great guilt at leaving their pets behind, lose the emotional support that their companion animal has provided and are much more likely not to return to a dangerous situation if their pets are provided for. Many shelters now have facilities for pets as well as victims and their children. Others do not have on site facilities, but do refer clients to shelters and foster homes that are willing to house their pets while they get back on their feet in a safe situation.
If you, or someone you know, is a victim of abuse and has a companion animal, the National Domestic Abuse hotline along with the Animal Welfare Institute, provide a website where victims can enter their zipcode to find resources, including the closest shelters that house pets of domestic violence so that they can find safety without leaving their buddies behind. Go to thehotline.org/help/pets for more information.