In a study done for The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in 1997 titled “Animal Welfare and Domestic Violence,” researchers looked into the role pets play in households where there is domestic violence. Their statistics showed that one in four women who were being abused stayed in their households because they didn’t want to leave their pet. Fear for the pet’s safety played a major role, with a higher percentage of women (35%) saying they delayed going to a shelter specifically because their pet was threatened or had been hurt.
Today, domestic violence shelters and animal welfare organizations are starting to figure out how they can work together to make it easier for victims to keep their pets with them when they leave their households. Leading the way are URI-NYC and the ASPCA. Here’s what they had to say in a recent press release:
The ASPCA and Urban Resource Institute (URI) announced their collaboration in support of URI’s PALS (People and Animals Living Safely) program, New York City’s first-ever initiative to shelter domestic violence victims with their pets. The ASPCA provided URI a $75,000 grant to fund a position that ensures both clients and pets residing in URI’s largest emergency shelter receive the support and services they need to heal and move forward with their lives.
URI launched URIPALS in June 2013 as a pilot program, modifying apartments at its largest emergency domestic violence shelter to accommodate families together with their pets. To date, the program has housed more than a dozen cats and other small animals, and is expanding the pilot program to accept dogs.
“We’re honored to participate in an innovative program that provides safe shelter for both domestic violence victims and their pets,” said Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “This program keeps people and pets together during times of crisis, protects them both, and preserves the special bond with a companion animal who is often a major source of comfort and stability in an otherwise chaotic life. By allowing survivors to be with their pets during this critical time, it facilitates the healing process as they move forward with their lives. We’d love to see it expand to other emergency shelters throughout the city and nationwide.”
This unique collaboration between the animal welfare community and domestic violence field will spotlight the critical connection between the welfare of people and pets in domestic violence situations. In fact, studies estimate that as many as 48 percent of victims of domestic violence remain in abusive situations for fear of what would happen if they left their pets behind, and that more than 70 percent of pet owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that the abuser has threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet. This underscores the importance of having programs for victims of domestic violence that take their pets into account when opening doors to safety.
“There are so many layers in domestic violence situations, and every member of the family is affected—including pets, who are often targeted as a way to threaten or control victims—which is why we are so grateful for the ASPCA’s partnership in helping people and pets escape violence together,” said Nathaniel Fields, President of URI. “With this grant and ASPCA’s support of URIPALS, we will be able to continue the program so that families never have to make the impossible decision of leaving their pets behind in abusive situations.”
“When I was in the abusive relationship, my two cats were constantly threatened and injured,” explained one survivor currently in shelter at URI. “I knew I had to get out of the situation, but just couldn’t leave them behind—our pets are part of my family and my son is so attached to them. Because of the URIPALS program, I was able to enter shelter with my cats and seek safety for my entire family. This is truly a life-saving program and I hope others will have the same opportunity as I did.”
In addition to the grant, the ASPCA will offer assistance via its Animal Hospital by providing services including medical exams, vaccinations, behavioral support, spay and neuter surgery, and fostering. The ASPCA’s Cruelty Intervention Advocacy team will also provide support and offer critical resources to pet owners who find themselves and their animals in unstable situations.
URI currently operates four shelters in New York City, housing approximately 1,500 adults and children per year. For more information about URI’s domestic violence services, tips to keep the whole family safe, or to support the organization, please visit www.urinyc.org.