These Organizations Support Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Pets
Learn how you can support their efforts.
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“Why don’t you just leave?”
It’s a question asked of far too many people experiencing domestic violence, given how complex and varied the reasons why survivors don’t or can’t leave are. One of these many reasons shouldn’t surprise the millions of Americans who have pets, yet often does: Pets play a major role in many survivors’ decisions about whether to leave their abusers.
Studies indicate that up to 48 percent of women say they delay leaving a dangerous situation because they do not know how to keep their pets safe. According to a joint report between the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Urban Resource Institute, 97 percent of respondents to a survey of 2,500 survivors said that keeping their pets with them was an important factor in deciding whether or not to seek shelter. But only 12 percent of domestic violence programs can provide shelter for pets. Leaving an abuser is often not just necessary for the wellbeing of human survivors, however, but for their pets, too.
“The research is abundantly clear,” Dr. Mary Lou Randour, senior advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute’s animals and family violence program, tells The Wildest. “There is a significant link between domestic violence and pet abuse.”
Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between domestic violence and pet abuse, and a variety of surveys have found that between 49 percent and 86 percent of abuse survivors reported that their partners had threatened, harmed, or killed their pets.
“Domestic violence survivors should not be forced to stay with their abusers or abandon beloved pets because they have nowhere else to go,” Dr. Randour says.
Thankfully, two national organizations are working diligently to help survivors with pets, and a number of local organizations are also working within their communities.
Safe Havens Mapping Project
Established in 2011 by the Animal Welfare Institute, the Safe Havens Mapping Project is a database of sheltering services that assist individuals experiencing domestic violence in placing their pets out of harm’s way. There are approximately 1,200 entries across all 50 states — searchable by zip code — currently in the database. The entries vary in nature and include entities that provide pet sheltering services, have a relationship with an entity that does, or provide referrals to such facilities.
While “local communities will always be the ones that will identify their local needs, resources, and community partners,” Dr. Randour says national efforts like this project “can assist the local communities by providing additional resources, identifying gaps in services at the state and national level and by providing platforms that allow local safe havens the opportunity to communicate with one another — and to share ideas and resources.”
In addition to the mapping project, the Animal Welfare Institute is currently working on analyzing safe haven “deserts,” or areas in the country that lack local resources for survivors and their pets, so that they can direct funders to where the need is greatest.
RedRover Relief’s mission is to “bring animals out of crisis and strengthen the bond between people and animals through emergency sheltering, disaster-relief services, financial assistance, and education.” The primary way the organization does so is through grants.
RedRover’s safe housing grants, which are grants of up to $60,000, are available to nonprofit domestic violence and animal organizations across the United States. According to RedRover’s website, these grants aim to “remove a barrier to safety” and offer “flexibility” for community-specific responses. The organization also offers safe escape grants, which help families with pets safely escape domestic violence together. The funding is mainly intended to help survivors pay for their pets’ temporary boarding while in a domestic violence shelter.
URINYC PALS (New York City)
In 2013, the Urban Resource Institute launched NYC’s first initiative to shelter domestic violence survivors with their pets. People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) offers pet-ready apartments and services across three of New York City’s boroughs that “allow families and pets to live and heal together in the same secure space,” according to their website. In fact, PALS Place is the first domestic violence shelter in the nation and the only co-living shelter in New York City in which every apartment unit has been designed to shelter pets alongside their families.
Paws for Safety (Rockland County, New York)
The Center for Safety & Change — an organization that offers survivors programs and services in Rockland County — established the Paws for Safety program in 2011 to provide a safe haven for pets of those in residential and non-residential domestic violence and abuse services. The program, which the Hudson Valley Humane Society supports, is free and confidentially houses pets with the goal of ultimately reuniting them with their owners.
Praline’s Backyard (Snellville, Georgia)
Praline’s Backyard provides cage-free housing, food, and veterinary services for the dogs of domestic abuse survivors who are in housing transitions.
Ahimsa House (Georgia)
Emily Christie founded Ahimsa House in 2004 after losing her own pet to domestic violence. Ahimsa, the first organization dedicated to helping human and animal domestic violence survivors together, started in Atlanta but now serves the entire state. The org works with vets and boarding homes to ensure that domestic violence survivors’ pets have a safe place to stay while their parents are transitioning to a new, safe living arrangement. While pets are in Ahimsa House’s care, their vet care — including any necessary surgeries or vaccines — are taken care of, as is training for behavioral issues that may have resulted from living in a violent home. Ahimsa House also runs a 24-hour, statewide crisis line, assists in transporting pets, and offers legal advocacy to survivors.
As of June 2022, Ahimsa House had provided over 150,000 nights of safe, confidential shelter for pets in need.
Shelter Our Pets (New Jersey)
Shelter Our Pets primarily serves New Jersey and aims to place the pets of domestic violence survivors in foster homes or at a nearby kennel until they can be reunited with their families. Abuse survivors can reach out to the organization directly, but the process is expedited if they are referred through domestic abuse organizations, shelters, and outreach programs or other approved organizations. Shelter Our Pets screens and accepts applications on a case-by-case basis.
As crucial as the work these local and national organizations do is, much more can be done legislatively to help domestic violence survivors and their pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which was signed into law in 2018, was a critical step in the right direction. The act broadened the definition of “stalking” to include conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to their pet. PAWS also established a grant program for entities that provide shelter to domestic violence survivors to help house their pets.
According to Dr. Randour, 23 programs have received PAWS funds, which will help establish services where there were none and help others expand. She adds that it’s crucial that Congress continues to provide robust funding for these grants.
Dr. Randour also notes that, on the state level, there are still 13 states that must change their laws to specifically allow pets on protection orders, and/or amend their definition of “domestic violence” to include harming, killing, or threatening to harm or kill a companion animal.
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Julie Zeilinger is a NYC-based writer and editor whose writing has been published in Marie Claire, Vox, HuffPost, Forbes, and other publications. She is also the author of two books: College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year (2014) and A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word (2012). She is the mom to Baloo, a two-year-old Bichpoo and foster mom to dogs via Badass Animal Rescue.