While cuddling her beautiful, husky-mix, Stefani Ericson, 28, felt that familiar and unnerving stare of her husband bear down upon her. She slowly removed her arms from around her cherished pooch named Akita. Both Stefani and Akita became stiff with the all too familiar feeling of deep fear of imminent domestic violence.
Just years earlier, Stefani and her husband had been like any other young couple in love, experiencing the highs of a new relationship. Now, she glared at him with fear and disdain, wondering how it all had changed into a nightmarish hell. Stefani’s husband had turned into a controlling, obsessive, and abusive spouse. And, to make matters worse, he had now become jealous of her bond with Akita, turning his rage on the innocent animal. Akita had provided so much joy and comfort to Stefani that she often poured her heart out to the treasured pooch.
Stefani’s husband regularly lashed out at poor Akita, kicking, screaming, and beating the defenseless dog cowering it into a corner. He once even clobbered the dog over the head with a broom repeatedly for begging for a potato chip. Now, the slightest provocation was enough to get Akita attacked by this bully of a husband.
Over time, Stefani had become increasingly isolated from the few family and friends that she had. But she knew she had to escape before her husband made good on his threats to kill Akita, if she dared leave the relationship. Her problem was the same as many other women in her position. Where would she flee to with the dog? Leaving Akita behind was out of the question!
For years women had very few options for escaping intimate partner violence with their pets.
And, for many victims like Stefani, leaving their pets at the hands of their abusers is simply not an option. Presently, less than 1 in 8 domestic violence shelters, nationwide accepts companion animals.
Organizations that can help
Zoë Agnew-Svoboda, Pet Shelter Advocate for Rose Brooks Center, a leader in innovative DV programs and shelters serving the Kansas City area, states that the centers “emergency hotline” has received countless calls from women who want to leave their abuser, but ultimately remain in their dangerous situations or become homeless and live in their cars with their pets out of fear that their abuser would injure or even kill their pet.
Moreover, national statistics reflect the findings of the Center. “About 48% of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation because they feared for their pets safety, and knew of no place to take them,” Agnew-Svoboda said. “And, 84% of women in shelters report that their abuser abused pets in the home and tragically when they tried to escape to a shelter, their victimizers often harmed or even killed the pets in retaliation. This inability to find shelter puts women, children, and their beloved pets at great risk of trauma or death.”
No one deserves to be battered, threatened, beaten or in any way victimized by their intimate partners or any other family member. Domestic and family violence can happen to anyone- even family pets and it can take many forms. DV isn’t limited to physical abuse. It can be emotional, sexual, financial, and psychological. DV is against the law and you have all the right to leave without fear of retaliation to your trusted pets. For women who find themselves in a situation where they must leave with their pets at a moment’s notice, it is imperative that suitable arrangements are available.
The PAWS Act of 2014
Fortunately, laws are beginning to address this long overlooked issue. There is much great news about a recent new Bill introduced to Congress called The Pet and Women Safety Act of 2014 (H.R. 1258). The bill is a big step in the right direction to protect the pets and the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence. The decree will bridge the gap between the tremendous need of DV survivors with pets and the ability of agencies to meet those needs.
And, Myra Rasnick, Executive Director at Ahimsa House, Inc., an organization which exists to address the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, says, “The PAWS Act is incredibly important to this movement because it establishes funding to help DV programs provide accommodations for victims’ pets.”
If we want to see this become the “norm”, we all must work together; others even suggest retro fitting existing shelters to provide runs and kennels for dogs. And, approximately 29 states, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, now have Pet Protection orders in effect. These safeguarding orders make it possible to include companion animals in restraining orders, making it illegal for abusers to injure, kill, or even go near the family pets while litigation ensues. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) signed the Domestic Violence Pet Protection Law, which includes pets in restraining orders and grants courts the rights to “prohibit defendants from having contact with any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household.”
What you can do NOW
Besides the much-needed funding, allotment of space in domestic violence shelters, safeguarding laws, raising awareness about this issue, as well as, the dynamics of domestic abuse all remain major stepping-stones to change.
“Education on animal cruelty is an important part of breaking the cycle. Animal abuse is a huge red flag for domestic violence in a relationship,” says Agnew-Svoboda. If an abuser has harmed or killed an animal they are typically much more dangerous and use more controlling tactics of abuse. When a child witnesses abuse they are at a very high risk of committing a violent crime or becoming an abusive partner. Government parties such as Division of Family Services, animal control and police officers need to take animal abuse more seriously. We need to change the legislation so that animal abuse is a punishable crime and not just a slap on the wrist.”
You can help by contacting your states representative and urging them to pass the PAWS ACT (H.R. 1258).
If you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is that needs help, contact the following organizations:
24 hour crisis line: 404-452-6248
Crisis Line 816-861-6100
Banfield Charitable Trust: 503-922-5801