♥ Pets And Domestic Violence

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.

This Silent Witness exhibit commemorates the lives of people in the Tahoe area who were murdered by someone they loved. The yellow shields on the silhouettes tell the victims’ stories because the victims no longer have a voice of their own.

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.

Beloved pets are caught in the DV crossfire, too.

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.

The Silent Witness exhibit at the Lake Tahoe Humane Society.

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.

*Information compiled from The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The American Humane Association and The Humane Society Of The United States.

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15 responses to “♥ Pets And Domestic Violence

  1. Such an important topic! Not only are pets victims of domestic violence when they are physically abused or killed but the stress and anxiety of living in a chaotic and violent household hurts them too.

    The Silent Witness exhibit is sad but beautiful. Haunting, actually. Just like children, people should be aware that ANYONE who lives in a home of domestic violence is a victim.

    Thank you for shedding awareness of this topic!!

  2. This is a really great post! I’m going to share it on Facebook and Twitter! I have worked at several nonprofits dedicated to ending violence against women and girls and the information you provide here — to keep EVERY BEING in the house safe — is really important. Thank you!

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  4. I remember being 11 years old and having to flee in the night with my mother, sisters and oma, who was living with us, when my father flipped out and became violent one night. I recall having a crying fit when I was told I couldn’t take my cat along, even to a friend’s house. I did get to take my hamster in its cage, but I was heartbroken having to leave my cat behind. Thankfully, my father did not harm the family pet, and for that I am grateful. I will never forget the fear and feeling of helplessness, though.

    • I am so thankful that your cat was not harmed. And that you were safe, too. And I hope that was a one-time experience. Thank you for sharing your story; it’s important to talk openly about DV and not relegate it to the category of dirty little secrets that families keep. It takes a lot of courage to speak about it; thank you for that. ❤

  5. Wow, this is such a terrific post! I stayed in an abusive relationship for far too long because I couldn’t take my animals with me. There definitely need to be more places like Ahimsa House & other safe havens that allow animals in this country.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you had to endure that; and so happy to know that you are out of that situation now! Until there are pet accommodations at every shelter, it is up to the rest of us to help out where and when we can, eh? J and I are now on the available foster family list for pets of DV victims. And we’re happy to do it! ❤

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  7. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that allowing for violence against animals paves the way for offenders to think it’s also okay to commit violent crimes against other humans. We are, after all, all sentient beings. Great post!

  8. Thank you for an important and relevant post about domestic violence. Many offenders begin their careers in violence by torturing and killing helpless animals, then progress to harming people. It’s a sad but true fact that children caught in violent domestic situations, often become perpetrators themselves. Thanks for bringing the plight of pets into the picture. I spent eight years volunteering with parents in stressful domestic situations, and pets were never in the discussion.

    • I never heard the mention of pets in DV situations until I began volunteering at this shelter in Tahoe. In fact, when I Googled the Silent Witness exhibit to see what types of exhibits other communities are doing, I noticed that South Lake Tahoe was the only exhibit found online that included pets in the stories and represented them as silhouettes. That needs to change. If 98 percent of American households consider their pets members of the family, then why isn’t there more of an outcry when pets are victimized, too??

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