As many as 71 percent of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser injured, killed, or threatened family pets for revenge or psychological control.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and provides an opportunity to help raise awareness about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. Up to 48 percent of domestic violence survivors reported delaying leaving their abusers because they feared what would happen to their pets.
Many people have never considered the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. Abusers may target pets to:
- Maintain terror or fright
- Gain more power and control
- Eliminate a source of support and comfort
- Force the survivor/family to return home
Some survivors have reported living in their cars with their pets rather than leaving them behind, but when they are able to leave, only 15 percent of domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets onsite.
There is a solution. Empowering more domestic violence shelters to build pet-friendly spaces onsite enables more survivors and their pets to flee their abuser and heal together.
The benefits of creating a pet housing program are many. Providing this service to families eliminates a barrier to safety, keeps survivors and pets safe, reinforces the human-animal bond, and facilitates healing.
A shelter considering a pet housing program has a variety of pet plans to choose from, including co-sheltering with a pet in an individual room, converting an existing space, building a new space, and more.
An onsite pet-friendly space may include:
- LVT flooring, which has foam backing to minimize sounds and an interlocking design
that forms a waterproof barrier
- FRP wallboard for an easy to clean surface
- Pet crates in individual rooms
- Indoor kennels with doggy doors that lead to fenced in relief areas
- Outdoor kennels with ample shade and protection from the elements
- Enrichment for cats, such as shelving placed up high, cubbies, scratching posts, wall
bridges, window hammocks, toys, and catios
- Enrichment for dogs, such as outdoor fenced play yards, agility steps, tire tunnels,
toys, benches for survivors to interact with their pets, and pet treadmills
- Living room/visiting room, which provides the space for pets and their people to relax
and foster their bond with each other.
Creating a pet housing program is made easier through RedRover’s Safe Housing grants. Domestic violence shelters and animal shelters can apply for grants of up to $60,000 to build space dedicated to housing survivor’s pets. Additionally, Safe Escape grants are also available to provide boarding and vet care while a domestic violence survivor is in a shelter that cannot accommodate the pet.
There are several ways you can become involved to help raise awareness about this issue.
Be vocal and spread the word. Advocate for your neighbors with pets who may be
struggling with abuse by raising awareness about the lack of pet-friendly options for
domestic violence survivors. Visit RedRover.org/dvhelp to stay informed of all the ways
to get involved.
Ask your local domestic violence shelter how you can help. Reach out to your local domestic violence shelter to see how you might be able to help the survivors in their care. Find out if your local shelter accepts pets now or is interested in resources to become pet-friendly. If so, tell them about RedRover’s grants.
A domestic violence shelter may have a variety of needs for the survivors they serve, from volunteers to donations of clothing, diapers, toys, and other comfort items for people and pets.
Visit Dontforgetthepets.org to learn how to create effective, sustainable pet housing
programs for people and pets in need through this step-by-step program.
Nicole Forsyth is president and CEO of RedRover, a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing animals out of crisis and strengthening the human-animal bond through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education. She writes For the Love of Pets for the Bay Area News Group. Send questions to [email protected]