I Escaped an Abusive Relationship — Thanks to My Dogs

Finding Solutions for Abuse Victims and Their Pets

According to data reported by URI, 87 percent of batterer-perpetrated incidents of pet abuse are committed in the presence of the victim for the purpose of revenge or control. Children are also devastated by the abuse inflicted on pets: 76 percent of animal cruelty in the home occurs in front of children. Frequently these children will intervene or allow themselves to be victimized to save their pets from being harmed or killed.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of domestic violence shelters are not set up to support or house pets: Only an estimated 5 percent of shelters nationwide support pets with onsite housing.

By contrast, a national survey found that 85 percent of women in domestic violence shelters reported incidents of a pet being harmed by their abuser, while 63 percent of children discussed pet abuse in their family. In addition, animals were abused in 88 percent of homes where child physical abuse was present and abusers of animals are five times as likely to harm humans. Abusers tend to isolate their victims, both socially and financially, which makes it extremely challenging for the victims to obtain outside support or assistance — and this is compounded when a pet is involved.

Often this means that even when resources like shelters and support programs are available, a victim may choose to remain with an abuser rather than abandon a pet in a dangerous situation. This is often a no-win situation for the victim: According to URI, 71 percent of pet owners entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control a victim.

Thankfully, there are a growing handful of domestic violence resources across the country that provide support for both pets and people. Such shelters allow both human and animal victims to flee to safety together — and in doing so remove one of the greatest barriers for abuse victims seeking help. These shelters also provide veterinary care for pets, who in many cases are in dire need of medical attention. Safe havens that support both pets and people also provide an opportunity for human family members to receive comfort from the ongoing support of a pet as they journey to healing together.

I am in a better place now. While Bruce is no longer with us, Willy and my daughter Regan and I have built a wonderful life with my new husband, Ben. But it is important to me to share my story, in the hope that other abuse victims will find the strength to walk away and find a safe place for themselves and their pets.

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