From companions to respected members of the family, animals can have a profound impact on the lives of their housemates. In fact, Brain Hare, a professor at Duke University, has linked higher self-esteem and less loneliness with owning an animal. According to the study, people who have pets also report feeling happier and more content.
Despite the benefits associated with pets, some people struggle to care for them or may even abuse them. Individuals who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse other people according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Abusers will threaten their pets as a way of asserting control and manipulating their partner. For many survivors, then, concern for their animal’s safety might be a barrier to consider when leaving an abusive relationship. They may remain in the relationship to protect their furry friends.
Luckily, there are ways to minimize the barriers that animals may pose. For instance, if survivors choose to file a restraining order against their abuser, they now have the opportunity to file for custody of their pet. Additionally, as part of the restraining order, or Domestic Violence Petition, survivors are able to prohibit their partner from harming, neglecting, or “disposing” of their animals.
As the link between domestic violence and animal abuse has become more clear, pet-friendly domestic violence shelters are also popping up across the United States. Advocates at Turning Points Network understand the bond that survivors can have with their animals. In the past, advocates have worked to connect survivors, fleeing violent situations, with pet-friendly safe houses. One survivor said, “I would not have been able to leave my husband without Turning Points’ help. They helped me figure out a way to take my dog with me when I left.” Fortunately, several humane societies in the area have offered their assistance as well. The Red Rover program, based in California, has helped to sponsor pets at Dean Hill Pet Center’s boarding kennel. A cat was also fostered for a survivor at the Claremont Humane Society.
Since October marks the 30th year of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important to remember that abusive behaviors, especially towards animals, can indicate an underlying pattern. Abusers will use all means necessary to control and manipulate their partners, even if that means targeting their beloved animals.
If you or someone you know, needs help navigating an unhealthy relationship we are here to offer assistance and support. Our crisis and support line is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We are here to help.
OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1 (800) 639-3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.