Safety for Abuse Victims and their Pets

Published: February 25, 2013
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My husband used to joke that if I ever threatened to leave him, he knew all he had to do was grab Owen and I would never go. Owen was my forever dog — the one that is always number one in your heart. He came into my life when I was 19 and in college and saw me through several boyfriends, graduation, starting a career, leaving a career, going to veterinary school, starting in practice, buying my first house, getting married … you get the idea. Richard was right; leaving without Owen would have been more or less impossible.

Richard’s a good guy, but some perpetrators in abusive relationships aren’t joking when they threaten pets to manipulate their victims. A recent article in my local newspaper provided the following statistics:

At least a quarter of abused and battered women do not flee an abusive situation because they fear what their abuser will do to their pets or livestock.

According to statistics provided by the American Humane Society, between 25 percent and 40 percent of women refuse to leave for that reason alone. Up to 71 percent of pet-owning women who do take the leap and enter a shelter have these fears of harm to their pets come true, reporting that their abuser injured, maimed, killed or threatened their animals for revenge or to gain psychological control.

What a horrible choice to be forced into: save yourself or stay and try to protect a beloved pet. Thankfully, in my community at least, that is a decision that victims of domestic violence don’t have to make anymore. A local shelter for women and children, Crossroads Safehouse, has extended their services to the pets of people who need their services. The program is called Crosstrails. The pets and livestock of abuse victims are being placed in loving foster homes for up to seven weeks, which more than covers the six week stay of their human family members at the Crossroads shelter while more permanent plans are being made.

According to the article in The Coloradoan:

The program is completely anonymous to protect all parties involved — the host family, the abuse victim and the animal. A foster family will never know whose animal they care for or any specifics of the situation. The pet owner will never know who cared for their animal, only that they’re safe. Foster families are not and will not be identified as such publicly, in order to keep them safe from perpetrators trying to find an animal or victim.

By including pets in their safety net, Crossroads is giving victims who might have been reluctant to leave their abusers a chance to escape while simultaneously preventing animal suffering. If you know of a similar program in your community, get the word out so people and pets can benefit.

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Crosstrails gives domestic violence victims safe place for pets. Sarah Jane Kyle. The Coloradoan. February 7, 2013.

Image: AnnaIA / via Shutterstock