It has been just over a year since women began summoning their courage and coming forward in large numbers to share their stores of sexual assault at the hands of bosses, co-workers, and acquaintances in the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. With the recent attention on this topic, it seemed the right time to also discuss violence and sexual assault at home and in domestic situations.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is intended to mourn those who have lost their lives to domestic violence, to celebrate the people who have survived and moved on to new lives, and to connect the people who work to end domestic violence. Here at Iconic Paws, we are passionate about this cause that affects not only adults and children, but also their pets.
Let’s start with some facts about the human survivors and their pets:
Every minute, approximately twenty people experience domestic violence in the United States, which comes out to 10 million victims annually.
One in four women and one in nine men will experience severe physical violence, sexual violence or stalking in their lifetime.
Economic abuse, or controlling and preventing someone from being able to manage or access financial resources, is present in 99% of domestic violence situations.
Only 3% of domestic violence shelters accept pets.
When you put this together, most domestic violence survivors who own pets are in what seems to be an impossible situation. Unless they have friends or family where they can safely flee with their pets or have the money to find a pet-friendly hotel or housing or pay for temporary boarding for their pet, they have two choices: stay in the abusive environment with their pet or leave their pet to fend for themselves with the abuser.
Both options are dangerous, especially since one million animals are abused annually because of domestic violence and animal abuse is one of the first signs of an abusive environment. As a result, 65% of survivors do not flee to a safe place because they will not leave their pet. 52% of survivors who are in shelters have left their pet behind with the abuser.
In order to help remedy this very dangerous situation, a bi-partisan group of US Senators and Representatives have sponsored the Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS). If passed, not only would it provide grant money to allow more shelters to accept pets, but it would extend restraining orders to include pets and require abusers to pay the veterinary bills for injuries that they have inflicted upon a pet.
Protecting pets in this way is beneficial both for the wellbeing of the pets and the human survivors. We have seen legislation over the last few years that have treated animals increasingly as sentient, feeling beings. In 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that dogs are sentient beings with feelings and emotions, and not just property. In Illinois, new laws went into effect at the start of 2018 that treat dogs more like children than property in divorce proceedings. We have also seen stricter penalties for animal abuse and neglect over the last several years. It is definitely the right time for the PAWS act to be passed in order to protect the pets of abuse survivors.
The PAWS act is not just for the safety and wellbeing of the pets, though. Long after the physical scars of abuse have healed, emotional damage can remain for a long time in
survivors. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety are common, along with a lack of trust and self-esteem. Dogs and cats help humans with all of those things just by being their normal canine or feline selves. There is no more important time for an abuse survivor to have their pets with them than when they are free from their abuser and starting to rebuild their lives. Animals do not judge, do not give advice, they simply listen and provide companionship and unconditional love. This is their appeal in everyday life, it is why we love them so much and chose to spend our lives with them, so it is only natural for them to be beneficial and therapeutic when their humans have been through a traumatic situation.
So how can you help both the survivors of domestic violence as well as their pets? The first step is to write to your state’s senators and representatives by writing their own letter or through this link: http://petandwomensafety.com/#/10 and encourage them to support this legislation.
You can also contact your local domestic violence shelter or charitable organization and speak with them about how they handle pets. Some shelters that do not permit pets to stay in their shelters have partnered with local veterinarians or boarding kennels to provide temporary shelter until the survivor has found a pet-friendly place to live.
There are also organizations that that often rely on volunteers and private fundraising to operate, including Red Rover, Animal Welfare Institute, and Safe Place for Pets. And finally, you can raise awareness about this issue and about Domestic Violence Awareness Month by talking to friends and family, sharing information and resources via social media, and participating in events this month and throughout the year.
Source of statistics and resources: