Animals offer us support and unconditional love. The bond we share with animal companions is unique. Given the close relationship we share, it is hard to imagine anyone hurting an animal. However, survivors of domestic violence who have animals often have to endure abuse of their pets as well. In fact, studies show that potential abuse, harm, or even the murder of pets kept survivors in abusive relationships longer because they could not find a place to stay that would accept their beloved animal or animals. One such study found this was the case for one-fifth of the survivors they interviewed.
Survivors with pets often share extraordinarily close bonds with their beloved animals. Pets can offer survivors the unconditional support and love that survivors don’t receive from their abusive partner. Studies show that survivors often turn to their pets for comfort after episodes of abuse.
Animals are often abused as a way to threaten, intimidate, and hurt the survivors who love them. Pets are often smaller than the abuser, are considered to lack a ‘voice’ in that they aren’t able to call out for help, are commonly belittled and considered ‘just animals’ by an abuser and some members of the community. All of these factors make animals vulnerable targets for abuse. Survivors with animal companions are sometimes forced to witness the abuse of their pet or live with the fear that their pet will be hurt by their abuser.
It is common for animals to protect survivors from abuse. Sometimes animals try to intervene during violent episodes, putting them at great risk for being harmed, either directly or indirectly. In addition to the threat of violence, animals who live in homes with violence tend to have fewer routine vet check-ups, compromising their ongoing health and wellbeing.
W.O.M.A.N., Inc. honors the connection between survivors and their animal companions. We strive to help survivors connect with options that feel relevant, understanding that asking a survivor to leave an animal behind with an abuser (if the survivor wants to leave their relationship) can feel like asking them to leave a child behind. We try to problem-solve with our survivor community and consider their options for safe pet caregivers.
People concerned for the safety of their companion animals can take some simple steps to help protect their beloved pets.
- There are local shelter programs that can help board your pet if you can’t take them with you. Call W.O.M.A.N., Inc. for referral info at 415-864-4722.
- You might also consider reaching out to friends and family and asking if they could become temporary caregivers for your pet.
- Consider whether your pet can stay with you–if you reach out to friends and family for a place to stay, supply them with this information if they are hesitant to allow your pet to stay at their home.
- If a friend or family member can safely tend to your pets, make arrangements in advance – know how to reach them at all times
- Establish ownership of the pet(s) through animal licenses, proof of vaccinations, veterinary receipts, etc, and keep these in a safe, easily accessible location. You may consider creating duplicates and hiding them at work or with a friend.
- Develop a Checklist – Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice with the items animals most need, including:
- Vaccination and medical records
- License or other proof of ownership & identification tags
- Leashes, collars & pet carriers
- Medication, if needed
- Prepare an Information Sheet – This sheet should explain your pet’s food preferences, feeding schedule, any medical conditions, medications and schedules that temporary caretakers should know about.
Consider what you can do to validate the close relationships between survivors and their animals. If you need support for yourself, a friend, or family member, call W.O.M.A.N., Inc. at 415-864-4722. If you would like to support our work with a donation, become a volunteer, or just learn more about us, please call Jill at 415-864-4777 x306.