Abuse of animals seen as bridge crime
Perhaps you are familiar with the link: people who harm animals are more likely to harm people. In the case of beloved pets in households where there is domestic violence, the link is very personal.
Abusers can use the threat of harm to a pet as leverage to control their victim. It’s a tragedy that is compounded by the fact that abusers often isolate their victims from family and friends so a beloved pet is sometimes more than a companion. Rather, they are sometimes the only source of support in a very unhealthy place. Fear of retaliation against a pet is a significant barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.
For these reasons, partnerships like the ones Unity House has with local humane societies where a pet can get fostered while a human finds refuge in a place like Unity House’s Domestic Violence Services shelter, are key to turning victims to survivors.
With the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime, Unity House is able to expand on and add to partnerships that work to help people and pets in dangerous situations. The Unity House Domestic Violence Services program was recently awarded a three-year $400,000 grant. The money will help fund emergency and transitional pet shelter and housing assistance. The grant is only of one of five grants awarded nationally.
In collaboration with the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, HeartsHerd Animal Sanctuary & Rescue Center, and Hawk’s Ridge Veterinary Services, we are expanding and enhancing support services for victims by providing temporary, safe shelter and care for their companion animals. The program also includes transitional housing support and community education components, which are important, especially in underserved rural areas.
The need is great
85% of DV victims indicate their pets were also abused
48% of battered women delay their decision to leave an abuser out of concern for their animals
Here’s one example that shows the need for such programs: A victim fleeing a near fatal abusive situation came to Unity House to seek shelter, fleeing with only the clothes on her back and leaving behind all of her possessions and her puppy. She knew the situation was escalating and feared for her life. She intended to go back for her pet when she was safe and her abuser could be arrested. When her abuser realized she had left, he began to send her Snapchat videos of him beating the puppy to near death as a means to get her to come back and stop him. Unity House staff were able to work with the Troy Police Department to get the videos from Snapchat, secure a warrant, arrest the perpetrator, and go pick up the puppy. Through this collaboration the humane society provided free medical care and shelter for the puppy and helped restore it back to health. The victim was able to secure a new safe home upon exiting our shelter and bring her puppy with her.
A large part of what this valuable collaborative can achieve is finding a new home for victims of domestic violence where they can keep their animals – even large farm animals such as horses – with them.