The reasons why a person stays in a home where they are experiencing domestic violence is complex — and some people have a hard time understanding it. But for many, the reason may be as simple as the family dog or cat. The fact is, most domestic violence shelters do not accept pets.
And so, rather than leave their best friend behind to suffer the abuser’s wrath, the battered partner stays at home to try to keep their pet safe. There’s even a name for it: battered pet syndrome.
The link between domestic violence and animal abuse is well established. According to a six-year study conducted in 11 metropolitan cities, violence against pets is a predictor of domestic partner abuse. Advocates for battered women have reported that abusers tend to control and isolate their victims with the threat of violence to the family pet. Researchers have determined that 48 percent of battered women delay leaving their abuser, or have returned to the home, due to fear for the welfare of their pets.
The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals launched the Helping Pets and People in Crisis program in 2006 to assist people in crisis who risked being separated from their pet. At first, the program offered fostering and animal welfare services with the hope that a family or individual could eventually be reunited with their pets.
In May 2013, the Mayor’s Alliance partnered with the Urban Resource Institute in creating URIPALS, People and Animals Living Safely program. They opened the first shelter for victims of domestic violence that accepts families and their pets.
The pet-friendly shelter offers apartment for owners and their pets with amenities that include a private dog park so people can walk and play with their dogs outside without having to fear encountering their abuser. The Purina Play Haven and Dog Park has features like a ramp, tunnel, bridge, platform, areas of walking dogs and trellis and vines for added security.
The Marion Dougherty Safe Haven Fund of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals was formed to help pay for supplies, pet vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, and short-term boarding for families seeking shelter from domestic violence.
If you find yourself in an urgent situation where you need to leave your home with your children, other family members, and your pet, there are resources to help you get out safely. In New York, call the NYC Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The Mayor’s Alliance can offer transportation services, and they will even arrange to go to your home when the abuser isn’t there to get you and your pet and bring you to a shelter.
The Urban Resource Center offers a number of services for victims of domestic violence. The operate six shelters throughout NYC, and they offer job-skills training, medical and legal services, therapy for adults and children, recreational and educational programs, all with the goal of helping people rebuild their lives.
For those outside the city, there are also options. The Animal Welfare Institute also offers a list of shelters for domestic violence victims and their pets called Safe Havens. You can search by zip code for one closest to you.
Sheltering Animals and Families Together is the first global domestic violence initiative that enables domestic violence survivors to leave their abuser and shelter with their pets. They provide a list of domestic violence shelters that will accept pets organized by state.
A Safe Place for Pets offers on-site housing, off-site housing, and community programs for people and pets. who need to escape domestic violence. You can search for shelters by zip code, city, or state.