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Domestic violence and abuse are complex topics to navigate. These situations can be life-threatening, traumatizing, and challenging. Spreading awareness and self-educating from reliable sources about domestic violence are two of the best ways to be an ally to people in these situations. 

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, observed each October, was created to spread awareness about domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, and its impact on our society. It provides an opportunity for people who have not experienced domestic violence to learn more about many of the lesser understood aspects of abusive relationships. One such aspect is the relationship between domestic abuse and animal abuse. Abusers may use threats or actively abuse a pet in a misguided attempt to control or punish the people in their lives. 

Studies have shown a disturbingly high rate of abusers harming pets as a manipulation tactic in domestic violence cases. This factor can make it harder to escape abusive relationships. Spreading awareness about this specific aspect of domestic violence is the first step in creating more solutions for pet parents in domestic abuse situations.

Signs Of Domestic Violence

It is important to understand that no one knowingly gets into a violent relationship, and abusive behaviors can escalate quickly or over many years, depending on the situation. From an outsider’s perspective, abusers may not seem threatening, and it can be challenging to identify them as they may present publicly as loving and supportive partners. Signs of abuse can vary situationally but may include:

  • The sudden presence of unexplained injuries and bruises that a person attempts to hide
  • Withdrawal from social interactions that the individual would typically enjoy
  • The presentation of abnormally anxious or submissive behaviors when an individual is in the presence of their partner
  • An individual disguising and refusing to give context about the sudden injury, disappearance, or death of their pet

Each case of domestic abuse is unique and may come with warning signs that are not noted here. There is also always a chance that these signs can be the result of a very different situation, but it is impossible to know until you ask. It is commonly recommended that you speak to the individual in person and in a safe place to be sure that a potential abuser will not intercept your efforts or subject a victim to retaliation.

Prioritizing Pets

Pets are a part of the family, and when family dynamics become violent, pets experience that violence. Studies that extend across various countries and demographics have found that between 18% and 48% of domestic abuse survivors delayed leaving their abusive relationship out of concern for their pet’s safety. 

It may be difficult to understand this concern at first, but further studies have proven that the pets of domestic abuse survivors are very likely to be abused, injured, and even killed by an abusive partner. One such study showed that 52% of domestic abuse survivors reported the abuser as having harmed or killed their pets. 

Abusers tend to prey on the things their partner loves as a method of control. By threatening to harm or destroy something dear to their partner’s heart, abusers perpetuate a mental game that makes their partner afraid to leave. Abusers may even attempt to convince their partner that any harm they inflict upon a pet is actually the partner’s fault. This manipulation can lead to a sense of helplessness and lead abused individuals to remain with their abuser. 

Pets are excellent sources of emotional support and love, so the power of this manipulation and abuse is amplified. If that pet is one of the few sources of love, joy, or comfort in their lives, an individual will be far more likely to do whatever it takes to protect that pet from the abuser. 

From the outside, it may seem simple to take the pet and leave. However, many cases of domestic abuse include financial control and isolation from friends and family. When survivors of abuse do not have the financial means to support themselves or any known safe spaces to stay, they may not be able to leave a volatile domestic situation easily. Fortunately, with a growing awareness of domestic abuse and its effect on pets, more safe spaces are becoming available to provide support to survivors and their pets.

Support For Survivors And Their Pets

Not all domestic violence shelters accept pets, but many offer referrals to animal welfare organizations that can temporarily house pets. There are other options for securely housing a pet when escaping an abusive household. Sheltering pets separately from their family is one of the most common options. It may not be the ideal situation, but many shelters and programs fund the housing and care that meet the needs of survivors’ pets. These programs may cause more separation than survivors would prefer, but they do offer an opportunity for the pet to escape the household and remain safe while survivors rebuild their lives. 

Domestic abuse shelters that house survivors and their pets are less common. Growth and funding are much needed. Where they do exist, these facilities allow survivors to heal and restart their lives with their pet’s supportive and loving presence. 

How You Can Help 

You can support survivors by donating to local domestic violence shelters and by spreading awareness about signs of abuse. Your efforts can make a difference in the lives of individuals fighting to escape abusive relationships every day.