Pets at Heart of Family Violence

When a Minneapolis woman planned to leave her abusive boyfriend, she desperately sought help for her cat. Her boyfriend had threatened to kill the animal. Like many victims of domestic violence, the woman delayed leaving the abusive relationship because she feared for her beloved pet's safety.

Too often, when family violence erupts, pets are the first target. Abusers understand and take advantage of the deep emotional attachment between victims and their pets. A pet may be the only source of unconditional love the victim has, and the victim will do anything to protect the pet.

The abuser controls the victim by threatening the pet. Up to 75 percent of abuse victims report their pets were threatened or harmed by their abuser.

Protecting Pets to Protect People

Legislators and law enforcement authorities are beginning to understand the significant connection between pets and family violence. Protecting pets can be an important step to ending abusive situations.

At least three states, New York, Maine, and Vermont, have passed laws that allow pets to be included in restraining orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. A restraining order is a court order that can prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim, from entering the victim's home, or from coming in contact with the victim's pets. An abuser may be arrested, fined, or sentenced to jail for violating the restraining order.

Next month the Minneapolis police will start allowing domestic violence victims to board pets at the city's animal control facility free for five days. Officers responding to a domestic violence call can immediately take the victim's pet to a shelter. Animal rescue groups have volunteered to take care of the victims' pets if they need more than five days to make pet care arrangements.

Hundreds of groups across the United States provide some kind of emergency pet care for domestic violence victims. The American Humane Society lists family violence shelters that allow pets at this link Pets and Women Shelters. The Online Directory of Safe Havens for Animals also lists shelters for pets.

Protect Pets from Domestic Abuse

The Humane Society offers these tips for protecting yourself and your pets if you fear domestic violence:.

  • Recognize warning signs. Hitting, kicking or other cruelty to animals often means a person can also be violent toward humans
  • Plan for safety. Have an emergency plan to shelter yourself, family members, and pets if violence erupts
  • Help from friends and family. Ask family or friends to provide temporary shelter for pets in danger to give you time to make more permanent arrangements
  • Online directory of animal shelters. Visit the Humane Society's Online Directory of Safe Havens for Animals to find a shelter for your pet
  • Community help. Your local police, domestic violence shelter, animal shelter, veterinarian, or boarding kennel may be able to provide temporary care for your pet
  • Police protection. Ask the police to go with you to your home to get your pet if you fear for the safety of yourself or the animal
  • Prove ownership. Your abusive partner might try to intimidate you by claiming to own your pet. Show that you own the pet by having your name on the pet license or veterinary records
  • Items to take. When you leave with your pet, take their vaccination and medical records, license, bowls, bedding, leashes, carriers, and feeding and care instructions to give to temporary caretakers
  • Keep locations secret. Keep your pet's location a secret from your violent partner. Remove identification tags that show the household you are leaving. Put tags on the animal with a phone number for your veterinarian or a trusted friend

Finding shelter for a pet can be a critical part of escaping family violence. Support animal shelter programs so that victims do not have to risk their own safety to protect their pets.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How do I get a restraining order to protect my dog?
  • Can I have my boyfriend arrested for hurting my cat?
  • Can I sue my ex-boyfriend for hurting my dog?

Tagged as: Family Law, Domestic Violence, pet shelter, domestic violence