Domestic violence month is observed every October and protecting pets is among the leading concerns of victims. Afraid to leave - and afraid to stay - victims with pets struggle with how to care for their pets if they escape. Domestic violence is intended to control and abusers often punish the victim who chooses to leave by injuring or killing their pets.
“Threatening to harm the pet or actual instances of hurting the pet is a pretty effective way to get your point across to the victim that it’s not safe to challenge me,” said Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Domestic violence is intended to control the victim. Intimidation or actual harm of pets is an effective tool for the abuser.
Grantmakers are beginning to recognize the crucial - even life-saving - value of funding domestic violence programs that protect pets and people. Domestic violence kills women. How many lives could be saved if public policy and private funding support domestic violence shelters that welcome the whole family - including the victim's pets?
As public policy changes, grantmakers may increase support of programs that include services for victims of domestic violence who need to bring bring their pets and children to safe houses
Philadelphia Metropolitan Region: only New Jersey has legislation including pets in restraining orders
Twenty-five states have enacted laws that include family pets in domestic violence orders. In the Philadelphia Metropolitan area, however, only New Jersey has a Domestic Pet Protection Law. New Jersey's Domestic Pet Protection Law (1/2012) allows pets to be included in court-ordered protection orders, "prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with any animal owed, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household." The state's guide for women who are victims of domestic violence includes information about protecting pets. Pennsylvania has at least three domestic violence shelters for victims with pets but there is no legislation protecting the pets.
Currently, with few laws protecting victims with pets and scant resources to support domestic violence shelters for victims with pets, the number of pets protected is very limited. In fact, domestic violence is among the most chronically unreported crimes and current laws only protect those who report and have restraining orders. A small percentage of women and even smaller number of pets are protected when domestic rage erupts.
Relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence
The American Humane Association , in cooperation with the National Coalition on Domestic Violence, reports on the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. Consider this:
- As many as 40% of domestic violence victims do not leave out of fear of what will happen to their pets
- Their fears are not unfounded. Among women who enter shelters, 85% report pet abuse in their families and 71% of women report that their pets have been threatened, harmed or killed by their abusers.
- Witnessing violence is the strongest predictor in transmitting violence from one generation to the next, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes. In domestic violence shelters, an alarming 32% of victims report that their children have maimed or killed pets.
Grantmakers: following public policy changes?
Grantmakers are beginning to protect pets in breaking the cycle of domestic violence, with American Kennel Club and Red Rover taking prominent roles.
Red Rover - grants award up to $3000 to agencies with a primary mission of sheltering victims of domestic violence. It is partnering with Sheltering Animals and Their Families The grants are expected to create space in shelters where no prior accomodations for animals previously existed. Red Rover's goals including advancing the presence of domestic violence allowing pets in several states. The next application deadline is October 30. Sheltering Animals and Their Families provides detailed guidelines on how domestic violence shelters can accomodate pets in this 58 page report.
Red Rover also extends individual grants to victims to contribute to the cost of boarding and other expenses if the domestic violence shelter cannot accomodate pets. The woman must have an escape plan in place that includes the pet(s). A veterinary practice can submit on a victim's behalf to protect discovery by the abuser.
Banfield Community Trust provides support for victims of domestic violence and their pets in several states outside of the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. A provider of veterinary services, Banfield focuses on keeping people and pets together. As its presence expands in our area, it may be useful to monitor the Banfield Community Trust's activity in making domestic violence grants.
Solutions for victims with pets and service providers
Currently, these few grantmakers specifically providing financial support for projects involving domestic violence and pets cannot meet the needs of victims. Domestic violence shelters rely on other types of fundraising in their communities. What can be done in the meantime?
- Advocates for victims need to contact their elected officials in states that do not protect victims with pets.
- Grantseekers need to approach approach innovative grantmakers interested in domestic violence with letters of inquiry that present the facts and the opportunity to help victims with pets. It is a way of building a relationship without inundating the grantmaker with unsolicited, lengthy proposals.
- Domestic violence shelters need to continue gathering data to show that victims are entering because their pets are welcome -- and not returning to the abusers out of fear their pets will be harmed.
As the role of pets in domestic violence and victims' decision-making - to stay or leave their abuser - receives broader public support, grantmakers active in public policy grantmaking will be more likely to participate. Victims with pets should find that domestic violence shelters will incorporate space for pets to better meet the needs of the victims and their children. When that occurs, public and private funding opportunities may finally increase in proportion to the number of victims who need services.