Domestic Violence – Pets Matter!

6 minutes Written by Brandy Goins

Unfortunately, in many domestic violence situations, the victim will remain in the relationship for fear of leaving their pet with the abuser. Either the abuser has threatened or even displayed actions indicating an intent to harm the beloved family pet. Abusers might go as far as to deliberately harm a pet in front of the victim and children as a form of intimidation. Due to the additional fear and trauma, the victim feels compelled to stay to protect the pet. Similar to weather disaster situations, we see news reports showing people riding out storm events because they don’t want to be separated from their pet. Many people consider their pets to be family members. (Statistics from *Bringing Animals from Crisis to Care

• 71% of women in shelters report the abuser threatened to injure or kill a pet.

• More than half of the victims in shelters leave a pet with the abuser.

• Up to 25% of victims actually return to the abusive situation to protect the pet. The abuser threatens to harm the pet as a manipulative tool to get the victim to return.

• 48% delay leaving due to concern for the pet’s safety.

Abusers most likely will not only abuse the spouse, but it can escalate to the children and pets, as well. All family members are impacted and traumatized by any form of abuse in the home. The thought of leaving a pet in this horrifying situation is unthinkable to victims and is heart-breaking.

Women typically have the strong instinct to protect children and pets.  They will do just about anything to protect their loved ones.  Pets are such a wonderful source of unconditional love, comfort, emotional and mental support to the victims and their children.  The bond they have is very powerful.  The victim is not only concerned about the physical well-being of the pet, but the emotion toll that the pet will endure by being separated from their owners.

The abuser is fully aware of this deep emotional connection, and will resort to threats of harming the pet to keep the victim from leaving. The abuser could also display acts such as hitting, screaming, or throwing objects at the pet to reinforce the threat to the victim.

Due to the growing recognition of the connection between domestic violence with pets involved, many states have passed legislation specifically to protect pets in domestic abusive situations. There are now 30 states that authorize judges to include pets in protection orders against the abuser. Organizations such as ASPCA are committed to the safety and well-being of all pets. 

The PAWS (Pet and Women Safety) Act was signed into law in 2018 Farm Bill.  This established a grant program to assist shelters and other facilities with funding for victims and their pets.  This also emphasized the connection between Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty.  This is critical because up to 68% of households have pets. (Animal Welfare Institute).

The PAWS Act is designed to provide critical help to expand the capacity of providers to help victims.  One way is to remove the road block to the victims escaping the abusive situation with services available to include a pet.  The Act also includes pets in federal laws pertaining to interstate stalking, protection order violations, and restitution.  It urges all states to include pets in protection orders.  This also provides law enforcement personnel additional tools to protect victims from their abusers. (Animal Welfare Institute).

Did you know that there are numerous programs and shelters that welcome pets with victims of domestic abuse? Allowing victims to bring their pets with them to a shelter, significantly reduces the chance of the victim returning to the abuser.  In some cases, a shelter may not have the resources to be able to care for pets.  The shelter can provide information regarding a local facility that can either accept the victim with their pet or find a facility that will board a pet for the victim.  I looked through various Google Sites and was really impressed to see numerous facilities offering free temporary housing for pets of domestic abuse survivors available nationwide.  SAF-T Program is just one site that lists shelters available by State and County and International locations, as well.  They also include contact information and additional resources.

Are you a victim of domestic abuse?  Are you staying or feel like you are trapped in a horrendous situation because you can’t bear the thought of leaving your beloved pet?  Transitioning is difficult.  You will need help and guidance to support you.  Reach out to a therapist or local domestic abuse facility for assistance.  Please know that there is help available for you and your pet.

If you or if someone you know is currently in an abusive relationship, find help!  Don’t wait.  Therapists with Heart and Mind Counseling, LLC offers services to assist with Domestic Abuse.

More About Heart and Mind Counseling

Heart and Mind Counseling specializes in domestic violence, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, inner conflict, relationship issues and negative relationship patterns. If you are being impacted in some of the ways above, contact us today so we can explore what it means for you. We can help you with your thought patterns, and emotions surrounding your self-perception, desires, expectations, realities of your relationships and life today!

We are a full-service Telehealth Psychotherapy service helping clients with a broad spectrum of needs in Michigan, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Brandy Goins, Phd (ABD), LPC certified in DBT, is a Licensed Sex Offender Treatment provider specializing in domestic, sexual abuse, addiction, and trauma. She also specializes in a range of mental diagnoses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder. Ms. Goins also specializes in sexual issues, polyamorous, kink, LGTBQ+, transgender populations as well. Brandy is licensed in Michigan and Texas.

References: *Bringing Animals from Crisis to Care. (Animal Welfare Institute)

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Written by Brandy Goins

Brandy Goins is a therapist in Michigan and Texas who specializes in couples, family and individual therapy.