Women who are abused can be put at risk by pet fears

It is not surprising that many people have strong relationships with their pets. Many women said that their partners had mistreated their pets. Many women were motivated to leave abusive partners but also worried about their pets.

The majority of women waited to leave abusive partners because they couldn’t take their pets to shelters.

Animal abuse and violence against intimate partners are often interconnected.

Pets and women are at risk.

We found that the abusers of these women abused and hurt their animals in many different ways. We found that emotional abuse, threats, and neglect are also prevalent. To better measure the issue, we developed the Partners’ Treatment of Animals Scale that combines all of these abuses and harms.

We also examined the relationship between animal abuse and the extent and frequency of abuse suffered by women. In our sample, women who experienced more severe and frequent animal abuse were at a higher risk for tough psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

Women and children are also at risk.

Shelter limitations

There are many shelters in the United States that have programs for caring for pets of women who have been abused. Most often, these are done through partnerships with animal shelters, charitable organizations, and veterinary practices.

Two major limitations limit these programs.

They can often only take care of the pets for a limited time. They force women and their children to separate from their pets. This is not something that most want to do.

Many women (48%) in our sample were not informed by the staff of the services that are available off-site for their pets. Many of the women told about these services only did so after they had already left their pets at the shelter.

Few shelters allow women to bring their pets with them. These programs do not have the restrictions discussed above. Most shelters do not have the necessary resources or logistical knowledge to create on-site pet programs. This means that many women don’t come to shelters because they can’t bring their pets along with them.

The combination of these limitations and the high rate of cooccurrence of animal abuse and intimate partner violence (89% in our sample) increases the risk of harm for both people and animals. Our selection of abused women reported that 56 percent of them delayed leaving abusive partners due to their concern for their pets. 60% of women who fled to shelters eventually left their pets behind with their abusive partners. About one-third left the top to go home and check on their animals. They were also considering reuniting with their abusive partner because they had their pets.

Bonds of power

Our research is currently being finalized with a nationally representative sample of shelter workers, as well as a representative sample from the general public. These data will help us understand the needs of women who have pets and how we can best assist women and their animals to escape abusive partners. This information will tell us the prevalence of the problem in the general population and not just women who are shelter-seekers.

Our objective is for individuals and organizations who work with survivors of intimate partner violence to receive data and support in order to set up on-site pet services at shelters throughout Canada. It will enable victims to get help without worrying about their pets and without being separated from them during a difficult period.

This could save lives, as women will no longer have to decide between their pet’s safety and their own. It can also protect a powerful bond that exists between women and animals. A bond that helps women overcome violence and remain resilient.

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