It’s a story that appears often on local news in the United States. A woman is saved by her dog as her partner abuses her. Or a family has to leave their animals behind to go into sheltering. And sometimes, animals being killed by abusers.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) says there are over 2,000 domestic violence shelters in the United States. But there are no national statistics on how many domestic violence survivors had pets. Or if finding a shelter for the pet kept them from seeking safety. Domestic violence hotlines and shelters usually don’t ask about pets during their intake process. But social workers at the NCADV say there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that not finding a shelter for pets puts survivors at risk.
So how big is the problem?
Professor Frank Ascione pioneered in the field with his studies at domestic violence shelters. They show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at the shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets.
Activists and domestic violence agencies have created a nation-wide network of programs to help domestic violence victims and their pets. The Animal Welfare Institute holds a database of more than 1,000 domestic violence shelters and animal organizations that offer some form of pet care and animal services for battered women.
But out of all those programs and shelters, only 86 take allow survivors to shelter with their pets. Animal rights activists have worked hard with these shelters to build protocols to make animal co-sheltering safe.
One of those shelters is now in New York City. The Urban Resource Institute opened its doors to cats last year. And this year they welcomed their first dog. It’s the first shelter to take in pets in any major U.S. city. They partnered with animal rights activists, the pet rescue program at the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals and the ASPCA to get their program running.
Pet sheltering can be expensive, so shelters like URI look to companies, organizations and donors to get their programs running. Purina donated an indoor dog park to the URI program, so women can walk their pets in the safety of the shelter’s walls.
The Human Animal Connection
A majority of pet owners in the United States consider their pets as part of the family.
Researchers have investigated the power of the link between humans and their animals. They’ve discovered a clear connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. Cruelty to animals is an early indicator of potential abusive behavior towards humans and children. That connection has been called “The Link” by activists, researchers and social workers that work with domestic violence. There are now 23 states in the U.S. that allow pets to be included in restriction orders.
But the strength of the human animal bond can also work in favor of their owners. Animals are now used in several forms of therapy, in anything from child abuse to end-of-life care.
This bond also helps domestic violence survivors, like the women in this story, put their lives back together.
Camilo Vargas went from his native Colombia to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He joined Latino USA after a fellowship with Univision Noticias and Univision’s Investigative Unit. Before coming to the US, Camilo was a researcher in conflict studies and US-Latin America relations for the Colombian government and the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota. He’s reported on the drug war, national politics, and same-sex salsa.
Video courtesy of Purina and the Urban Resource Institute.
Photos of the indoor dog playground, courtesy of Urban Resource Institute, photographer Jordan H. Star.