Pets endangered by domestic violence are more common than we think. Pets living in homes where domestic violence occurs are at high risk of being injured and abused.

According to a recent US study, nearly half all domestic violence victims remain in abusive relationships because they fear what may happen to their pets if they’re left behind – often risking their own security to keep their animal companions safe.

An estimated 71% of domestic violence survivors report that their abuser has injured, maimed or threatened their family pet, according to the US National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Studies also show that 55% of domestic violence victims and their children report that their pets are an important source of emotional support, underscoring the need to accommodate pets as well as people at shelters.

Pets in shelters for victims of domestic violence

In response to these statistics, the pet industry has stepped in to help fund renovations to domestic abuse shelters pet-friendly so that pets can live with their owners in a safe and protected environment.

Without this option, many domestic abuse victims face difficult,  heartbreaking and sometimes dangerous decisions. Do they relinquish their pet? Do they stay with their abuser to protect their pet from being injured? Do they live in their car until they find the right shelter?

“Try to picture yourself in that situation; you can get help for yourself and your children, but you’re going to have to leave your pets behind. How hard it would be to leave?” asks Kris Neuhauser, medical director at Noah’s Ark Animal Clinic in Kansas City, Missouri, which provides veterinary care for pets living at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

“Giving [domestic violence survivors] that opportunity to be able to get help for themselves and their animals without having to leave that animal behind and worrying about what might be happening to their pet is so important,” says Dr. Neuhauser. “That gives [them] support … through the recovery.”

Some domestic violence shelters partner with local veterinary clinics or animal shelters that agree to put up the animals temporarily, while others work with foster families that will take in victims’ pets. Some shelters have kennels and other storage space set aside for crated animals; others let pets stay in rooms with residents.

At the Rose Brooks Shelter it took a woman with a Great Dane to change it’s no-pet policy. The woman’s dog had saved her life by lying on top of her and taking the majority of blows. She refused to leave him behind, and this courageous dog became the first pet resident at Paws Place. Many more would soon follow.

Zoë Agnew-Svoboda, Paws Place programme coordinator, says: “Often pets are used as a tool to maintain power and control in a relationship. By accepting pets, the shelter is accessible to anyone who may need our help. Our goal is for more shelters to provide services for pet owners.”

More pet-friendly shelters needed

So how can domestic violence shelters go about adding pet accommodations, especially when they’re already under-resourced? It takes a lot of money and strong partners to make domestic violence shelters pet-friendly. The more awareness there is, the more communities will support pet-friendly domestic abuse shelters. It’s important to spread the word because not many people understand the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence and how sheltering pets could save a person’s life.

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