Pets in Abusive Relationships

Getting out of an abusive relationship is notoriously difficult. "Abusers tend to ostracize victims financially, from their friends, family, from the entire outside world," says Victoria Rambo, a staff attorney at Texas Advocacy Project and volunteer animal advocate. Having a pet can further complicate matters, as "a pet is likely to be the victim's therapeutic companion; they're a huge barrier to leaving."

The majority of domestic violence shelters don't allow pets, and those that do have limited space. Additionally, because victims tend to be cut off financially, they don't have the money available to house or board an animal.

According to the American Humane Association and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "71% of pet-owning women entering women's shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims." And, somewhere between 25 and 40% of "battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets ... should they leave."

An abused animal can be a sign that domestic violence is taking place. "Animal workers see a lot of abused animals, but they don't know to look for family members [of the abuser]," says Rambo. "Animal abuse is a serious warning sign that points to danger." Yet animal caregivers aren't necessarily trained to catch the correlation, nor are they looped into domestic violence support networks (i.e., advocates and law enforcement).

If a survivor chooses to take legal action, protective orders can prohibit a batterer from removing a pet from the care of the survivor named in the order. Unfortunately, though, a protective order is really the only option. Without the necessary space for animals in shelters, this will continue to be a road block for victims of domestic violence. "This needs attention," says Rambo. "We know a lot of shelters don't have funding, so you can reach out and see if you can help a person – or animal – by taking a pet temporarily."


To find out how to volunteer to foster a pet, visit www.austintexas.gov/fosterpets or www.austinpetsalive.org/get-involved/foster. SafePlace's pet foster volunteer coordinator works to find temporary homes for pets of domestic violence survivors. To volunteer, visit www.safeaustin.org/get-involved.

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