Imagine having to choose between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring the safety of your animal companion. Approximately one-third of those subjected to domestic violence delay leaving because they don’t want to leave their animals behind. While there are many shelters in the United States that provide these victims with a safe place, only 3% provide accommodations for their four-legged family members due to lack of space or financial resources.
The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS) addresses this issue by providing grant funding to programs that offer shelter and support to survivors of domestic violence and their animals. It also prohibits threats or acts of violence against a person’s companion animal under the offense of stalking, urging states to allow animals to be included under protection orders.
The human-animal bond offers many positive benefits to victims of domestic violence. Cats and dogs provide unconditional love, emotional support, and stability. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, “Abusers are well aware of the bond between their victims and their companion animals, and they exploit that bond to control, manipulate, frighten, and punish their victims.” The goal of PAWS is to stop this cycle of abuse, giving shelters the financial ability to support survivors of domestic violence with their animal companions in tow. Overcoming this major obstacle is a key aspect of protecting women from their abusers, and empowering them to heal.
Across the border, a similar problem exists. In Ontario, 48% of women in situations of domestic violence delay leaving — or don’t leave at all – because they refuse to leave their animals behind. A registered charity organization in Ottawa called SafePet fosters animals for women and children during their stay at local Violence Against Women (VAW) shelters. “Pet Fosters in the Ottawa area take in pets that belong to women who are residents of VAW shelters,” says Ayala Sher, president of SafePet. “The Fosters provide pets with food, shelter and appropriate exercise so that women at risk of abuse can stay in safety at the VAW shelter until they are ready to exit without having to worry about their pets’ well-being.”
In conjunction with the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, every animals in foster care with SafePet receives a free intake examination. Core vaccines are also updated when necessary. Another part of SafePet’s mission is to work with other groups and organizations to establish similar fostering programs. “We hope to see a network of independent organizations throughout Ontario in the future,” says Ayala. “At the same time, we are happy to share our experiences with groups outside of Ontario.”
How can you help?
Visit http://petandwomensafety.com/#/10/ to help protect women and their animal companions from domestic violence.
For more information about the link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse, and to view pending legislations and state-by-state listings of organizations like SafePet in the USA, visit The National Link Alliance.