Safe Havens for abused women and their pets in the United States

Man, woman and pets, photo: Sarandy Westfall on Unsplash
Man, woman and pets, photo: Sarandy Westfall on Unsplash

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) launched the Safe Havens Mapping Project, a directory of more than 1200 sheltering services that will help domestic violence victims with their pets.

Safe havens assist in getting the victims’ companion animals to safety so that the women can seek protection for themselves. About half to three-quarters of abused women report that their pets had been threatened, harmed or even killed by their partners.

“There is a very well-established connection between the two,” psychologist Mary Lou Randour from AWI tells The Animal Reader about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. “When you see animal abuse, you’ll likely see domestic violence.”

“There was a study done by the FBI of about 260 people who had been convicted of animal abuse and they had gone to jail. They got their case records, and it showed that half of them had committed domestic violence before the animal abuse, and half of them had done it afterward.”

“Some people wonder what happens first, but it’s like the chicken or the egg question, it’s simultaneous. It isn’t that a person that abuses an animal may one day hurt a human being, it’s more likely they’re doing it at the same time,” she continues. “It’s a cluster of bad behavior. People who are anti-social and aggressive with one being will be the same with another being.”

“They can injure them (the pets), threaten them, kill them, and it’s all with the intent to control the person,” Randour says. Domestic violence victims often stay because they don’t want to leave their companion animals.

“One thing we do know is that sometimes women delay leaving because they have nowhere to take their pets. They don’t want to leave their pet with the abuser because that’s not a good solution, so they’re kind of stuck. That
is why our group put together save havens for pets of domestic violence,” Randour explains.

“For example, in Florida the vet’s association will take those pets in when they and their children go in for shelter,” Randour gives as an example of a safe havens. “In Maryland, they go to foster homes. Other times they may have space in an animal shelter.”

“More recently, they have co-housing to have the pets stay with the family and the domestic violence victim. That would of course be ideal, but also difficult to arrange,” she continues.

Randour emphasizes that it’s important to monitor who harms animals because “it’s a clustered behavior, where the behavior is being aggressive and anti-social and domineering. And that behavior could be expressed against a human, adult, a child or an animal”.

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