Sanctuary for the Abused
Monday, June 05, 2017
What About My Pets?
Another Reason Women Don't Leave
I recently received an email from someone who reminded me of another reason why women don't leave abusive situations. They are afraid for the lives of their pets. According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a 1997 study of the largest battered women's shelters in 48 states revealed that workers at 85 percent of those shelters had heard reports from women about incidents of animal abuse. And abusers often torture the human members of the family by hurting or killing pets, right in front of the other members of the family.
In fact, some abusers use animals to 'practice' hurting humans. In these situations the pet often becomes a sort of hostage - it is safe as long as the woman stays and obeys.
In an ideal world, there would be shelters that include pets, or safe places to place pets when anyone flees an abusive situation. Advocates are working with animals shelters and veterinarians to find a solution to this problem.
The priorities in our society make things even worse. There are not enough shelters for battered women in this country, and the prospect for improvement in the immediate future is dim. So the shelters are full, and animals are usually not permitted.
In the last ten years, more attention has been paid to the fact that violent people often manifest themselves first in violence against animals. Many states have passed laws that make cruelty to animals a felony offense. Women's rights advocates will relate, with bitter irony, that being cruel to an animal is a felony, while being cruel to a woman is only a misdemeneanor. But if you can get past that irony, the animal protection laws can be used to a woman's advantage.
The main problem with domestic violence laws is that a batterer can beat up his wife or girlfriend several times before the law gets annoyed. But if the batterer harms the family pet, the batterer can be arrested on a felony charge.
In many ways, our society at the present time values animals more than it values women and children. Humane Societies may be more prevalent in a state than women's shelters, often with more reliable funding. Please understand that I am not denigrating Humane Societies; that's where I get my cats. I am suggesting that the Humane Society can be a valuable ally that can partner with women's shelters.
If you are in a violent situation where your pet is being used as a hostage, the first step is still the same: call a hotline to get help. The advocates you reach will know the laws in your state and can help to find shelter for your pets too.
The Humane Society of the United States has a program called First Strike. There is information at their website for setting up an organization in your community. The woman who reminded me of this problem runs a website called Friends of Pets. And at DMOZ.org, there are thousands of websites listed that can help.
Ask when you call a shelter if they allow pets, or know a program in your area that will take care of your pet until your situation stabilizes. Family members and friends can be a good resource too. There may be county workers that investigate reports of animal cruelty who has ideas about sheltering your pets. I once worked with a women who has dozens of animals, including chickens and a horse. We found another women who had survived battering, had remarried and lived on a hobby farm. This survivor was happy to shelter all the women's animals while the first woman recovered.
Be sure to talk to your advocate about an Order for Protection, which can protect your animals as well as you. And as always, your best source for ideas, support, resources, and brainstorming if your local women's crisis center. The more we publicize issues like this one, the more attention it will receive. And perhaps we'll change the world.