October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I realize that this may seem an unlikely topic for a vegan food blog (especially during Vegan MoFo), but Domestic Violence is a topic that is entirely relevant for a vegan blog. After all, compassion is the core value that unifies all vegans; and the avoidance of violence against all living things is the fundamental vegan practice.
For years, I have volunteered my time to the DV cause at different women’s shelters. I have learned some very unsettling things with each case history and I have come to realize that domestic violence is an issue that every animal-loving vegan (yeah, I know, that is a bit redundant) should be aware of. Vegans are, hands down, the most vocal and proactive of animal advocates. And domestic violence is very much an animal rights issue as far as I am concerned.
Violence in the home isn’t a crime perpetrated solely against women, although at least 85% of DV victims are women. The children living in the home where violence is the norm are the ‘secondary’ victims of domestic violence. Largely overlooked, but just as vulnerable and defenseless as the children, are the family pets.
When people are abused in their homes, their pets are also at risk for abuse. Since domestic violence is about power and control, pets in the home are another means for the batterer to control and coerce their victim through threats or violence against the pets. It is an all too common scenario: the victim will not leave the abusive situation if crisis shelters will not accept pets. Or, the victim is forced to return to the abusive situation if the batterer threatens to harm or kill the pets.
The reported abuse suffered by companion animals living in domestic violence situations is horrific. They are thrown against walls and from balconies. They are beaten, they are shot, and they are set on fire. Their ears are cut off with pruning shears. Their throats are cut. If the victim flees the home without the family pets, the pets that are left behind are usually neglected, or even starved, by the batterer.
Domestic Violence statistics* are sobering:
- A woman is beaten every 15 seconds in this country.
- 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Most cases of DV are never reported to the police.
- Almost half of reported DV victims are unable or unwilling to escape abusive situations for fear of what will happen to their pets or livestock if they leave.
- One quarter of reported animal abuse cases also involve domestic violence. Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in crisis.
- Three quarters of the people entering DV shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured, maimed or even killed family pets; either for revenge or to psychologically control and coerce their victims.
- Most domestic violence shelters cannot accept pets because of health regulations, space limitations and potential liabilities.
- DV victims are forced to live in cars and other homeless situations with their pets, sometimes for months, until there is an opening available at a pet-friendly safe house.
- There are only a handful of DV shelters nationwide that accept pets. One source counts 9 total; another source states fewer than 1 in 8 DV shelters are pet-friendly.
How you can help:
- Find a Safe Havens for Animals™ Program in your community (another Safe Haven directory can be found here) and volunteer your time, money, pet food and/or useable goods. Most agencies post “wish lists” on their websites.
- Work with animal shelters, veterinarians, rescue groups and women’s shelters in your community to establish a Safe Havens for Animals™ Program for the animal victims of domestic violence.
- Contact your local humane society, animal control agency or women’s shelter and volunteer to be a temporary foster home for the animal victims of domestic violence.
- Help DV victims to retrieve their animals that have been left behind.
If you are living in an abusive situation yourself:
- Help is available. Call your local women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find help in your area; the services are free and confidential. Know that you don’t have to choose between your safety and your pets.
- Have your pets vaccinated against rabies and license your pets with your city or county. Make sure these registrations are in your name (not your abuser’s) so that you are able to prove ownership of your pets.
- When making a safety plan (always have a safety plan), prepare for the safety and welfare of your pets, too. Absolutely do not leave your pets with your abuser; take your pets with you. Some women’s shelters have established Safe Haven programs; some shelters have an informal fostering program composed of staff members and volunteers.
- Alternatively, arrange temporary shelter for your pets with a veterinarian, family member, trusted friend, or local animal shelter.