Can Helping Pets Benefit Domestic Violence Victims? Blog the Change for Animals

When someone is facing the hardest experience of her life, do pets matter?

Heck yeah!

Especially if the hard experience is trying to break away from a manipulative and violent partner or spouse.

Mike with the foster dog I nicknamed Lil Punkin Butt.

Yeah, you’re not fooling anyone. We know you’re totally smitten.

There are no shortage of statistics. Seventy one percent of pet-owning women arriving in a domestic violence shelter report that their batterer threatened, injured, or killed their pet. And up to 40% of battered women have reported that fear for their pets caused them to stay in a violent home.

Although it’s increasingly clear that effective strategies to help people leave homes where they face domestic violence must include the victim’s pets, programs are slow to catch on.

New York City has 50 domestic violence shelters. But it was only in June of this year that New York has created its first shelter that allows a woman to keep a cat, fish, or small rodent. Hopefully, by the end of the year, they will have a single facility that allows women to move in with their dogs.

So what does this mean for Blog the Change for Animals? How can we help animals and their people trapped by domestic violence?

Let me tell you a story about some new friends of mine.

No domestic violence shelters in my area allows people to move in with their pets. However, our local no-kill shelter has an agreement to house pets who need temporary care while their family members are in a domestic violence shelter.

Earlier this year the shelter where I foster contacted me. A woman with two dogs needed someone to foster them while she arranged permanent housing. The humane society was overloaded and did not have room for any more dogs. Could I help?

Honey the Golden Retriever plays with Mr. Handsome the Chocolate Lab.

Just because you’re so handsome, don’t think I’m going to give you every toy.

I spoke to the woman’s social worker and we arranged for Honey and the two dogs to meet. Luckily, it was love at first sight.

The two dogs are possibly the best-socialized animals I’ve ever met—friendly, adaptable, and sweet as can be. It was obvious from the start that their human loves them very much and has given them a wonderful home.

So the two pups moved in.

We live near the shelter so M, the dog’s person, is able to come see them most days. The dogs, that I’ve nicknamed Li’l Punkin Butt (LPB) and Mr. Handsome (Mr. H.), keep a watch at the door for their “mom.” And Honey also adores M.

When M is not visiting, the dogs are playing together and making us laugh. And M is arranging permanent housing where she and her fuzzy butts will be together once again.

Lil Punkin Butt and Mr. Handsome doze on the couch.

Being cute is hard work. Time for a nap.

When LPB and Mr. H. move out, we’ll be very happy to see the family reunited. But we’ll miss our new friends.

I’ve been pleased to support, in one small way, someone doing something good for herself and her family. And in the spirit of Blog the Change, I’d like to suggest one way you can help women with pets trying to leave domestic abuse behind.

  1. Do some research. Ask your local advocacy agency for victims of domestic violence if they provide facilities for animals.
  2. If not, let them know you may be available to foster pets when needed.

If my experience with M, Li’l Punkin Butt and Mr. Handsome is any prediction, you won’t regret it. And you’ll be doing something good for people that is also good for dogs.

I’d like to thank M for giving me her permission to write about her and her family. And for allowing us to look after her precious furries.

Your Turn: Does your community provide helpful options for domestic violence victims with pets? Any innovative programs you can share?

Blog the Change for Animals

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  1. I didn’t realize the impact that pets have in domestic violence cases until I did a series on DV for my job. I learned that the largest DVD advocate doesn’t allow pets at the shelter but does make arrangements for them. The executive director told me they found housing for a horse once. I didn’t get into details but it sounds like they have a similar arrangement that M experienced. I also learned that restraining orders can also be used to remove a pet from an abusive home.

    It’s so sad. I hope that more shelters will allow pets but it is good that there are groups willing to help.

    • Laws that allow restraining orders to protect pets are a recent development but one that is already very effective. In doing my research, I’m thrilled to see how agencies are working on this problem from so many different angles.

      And it’s just one more example of how animal welfare and human welfare and inextricably linked.

  2. You are doing a wonderful, kind and human thing here, Pamela, Honey and Mike. Thank you. From someone who had a place to go, I wouldn’t have left if I couldn’t take the pets.

    • I’m definitely feeling that.

      And while I’m glad there are programs like ours where animals can find a safe, temporary home, it’s not the same as a victim having her pets with her. When someone is tearing down your ego and trying to make you feel worthless, I can’t think of anything better than having a loving animal by your side.

  3. We’ve seen a change in shelters accepting weather displaced people also accepting pets. I’d love to see a change in this arena too. Great topic for this change Pamela. And you are doing a wonderful thing!

    • Change is slow in coming. My husband volunteers in disaster relief for the local red cross. If someone is displaced because of a personal emergency, like a fire, they can get a hotel voucher to a pet friendly hotel. But mass shelters for weather emergencies are not pet friendly in our area. :(

      Mike keeps telling me I should take that on for the red cross but I don’t think I have the patience to work with such a massive nonprofit bureaucracy. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

  4. Great job, Pamela! I, personally, have not delved into the statistics of the effect pets have on DV cases; but I know there is NO WAY I would leave my girls behind if Sam suddenly became abusive to me. I think I know of a few people who might foster them if the need arose; but I don’t foresee it happening (thank goodness!).

    I hope M finds a new home for herself and her pups soon so they can be together again. Meanwhile, I know LPB and Mr. H. are in good hands and getting lots of love from you, Mike, and Honey!

    • I hope you gave Sam a big kiss and hug after reading this post. Hearing about the jerks and @ssholes of the world makes me very appreciative of my husband and more forgiving of his faults (c’mon, what were you thinking leaving an apple dumpling out with a counter surfing dog nearby?). :)

  5. Such an important topic. Where I used to live, there is a domestic violence and rape crisis shelter that launched an initiative to help survivors find a way to keep their pets. Here’s their Twitter: It’s so important to acknowledge and accommodate pets in these situation. It’s a wonderful thing that you’re doing. It matters so much.

    • That’s great that MiddleWay is working on this issue. Caring for animals in violent homes takes one big tool away from abusers.

  6. I’m a survivor of domestic violence. It was 22 years ago, but I can be there (remembering) at the drop of a hat. I’ve often thought about this, about fostering pets of DV. I think I will check into DOING something tomorrow!! Thank you PamelaXOLluM

    • I’m so sorry you were a victim of violence, Linda. I hope you had people you could rely on back then.

      And I’m thrilled you’re interested in this way of giving back. I hope you can find an agency with a plan in place for helping victims with pets.

  7. Honey is being a wonderful hostess as are you and Mike. I love doing stuff like this. My two fosters, while not in a DV situation, will be here less than a year more (of two) while their family is in Mongolia. Being open to help is one reason I need to not take in so many dogs….this truly could be a life saving situation. Prayers for all, particularly M. and her dogs.

    • I love how open you are to accepting a few more dogs who might need a temporary situation. Knowing there is a safe place for your animal to be while you’re in transition makes many things possible.

      I’m sure M and the pups will appreciate your prayers. They’re a wonderful family and I feel privileged to know them.

  8. This post really touched me and inspired me. I want to copy you! And I will try. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. There are so many worthy reasons to foster animals, but this one takes the cake for me. I’ll look into it with my local shelter right away…

    • I’m really glad this post spoke to you, Kristen.

      I don’t think fostering is for everyone. Especially since we have to respect the needs and sensitivities of our own animals before bringing others into the house. But this fostering situation has been very different.

      Usually, I foster puppies (and puppies are TOUGH) or dogs severely undersocialized. Fostering dogs who are very deeply loved by their person and bring no big issues with them is a piece of cake. This pair is sweet and flexible and they fit right into the house.

      No dog is ever perfect (not even mine :) ). But fostering these dogs has been easy and fun. I hope you find a way you can help. If your shelter doesn’t know anything, try domestic violence advocacy groups.

  9. A brilliant post, and so true! We need to do more as a society to help these people! Depending on how the next few months work out for me, I may be in a position to look at fostering, something that I never thought I would be strong enough to do but thanks to reading blogs like yours I can’t wait!

    • I brought Honey into my home because I wanted a dog that would tolerate and support my desire to foster. She’s been a rock star with the other dogs and puppies.

      I hope you decide to foster in whatever way works for you. You’ll find a lot of support here in blogville.

  10. It was so wonderful of you to foster these dogs until their owner could get on her feet. Allowing pets at a shelter is an excellent idea. Recently, the Rose Brooks shelter in nearby Kansas City began to allow pets, including dogs. They started allowing pets after a woman and her dog were attacked with a hammer by her boyfriend. When the woman went to the shelter and was told she couldn’t have her beloved Great Dane with her, she told them she would go live in her car instead. I don’t usually drop links so if you want to read the story, Google Rose Brooks shelter welcomes pets. It is on the top of the first page in the search.

  11. This post brought tears to my eyes because a person shouldn’t have to choose between pets and safety. Thank goodness there are people who are able to foster and help out like you do! Hopefully more safe houses for domestic violence victims will become pet friendly too!

  12. hi, great post! check out allie philips list of domestic violence shelters that house pets. allie is a lawyer who saw a need for shelters for domestic violence victims and their pets. i was in this situation many years ago and know first hand the trauma. she has a manual oh how to start a shelter of this type if you or someone you know is interested.

  13. What a wonderful post! It’s obvious that those pups are loved and well taken care of – it’s so awesome that you are able to help their mom! Thank you for all you do!!

  14. I’m working backwards obviously! I don’t generally participate in Blog The Change because I can never think of a topic that isn’t ‘preaching to the converted’ but you’ve managed to come up with one :) It’s awesome that some places are not only becoming aware of the women with pets who are affected by DV but are also doing something to help. I can’t think of a better reason to foster either. Best of luck to M on getting things sorted so she can be together with Mr H and LPB soon.

  15. I haven’t been online much the past few days, but I wanted to play catch up and figured I’d find out just who “Mr. Handsome” was.

    Now, after reading this, I just have to say: Pamela, you rock.

    That was so kind of you to allow the dogs to stay with you and to allow this woman to come visit them regularly. I hope she gets her life in order soon, but nice to know her pups are in good hands in the meantime. I bet she appreciates it more than you might ever know.

  16. It must be a weight lifted from M’s shoulders to see her dogs safe and looked after. There must be so many others feeling trapped because they want to do the best for their animals.