Pets help abused women - but may make them vulnerable
When the police arrived at Lindsay's Southern Ontario home responding to a
domestic violence call, she refused to go to a women's shelter because she
could not bring her dog.
The 42-year-old stayed with her physically
abusive partner for more than two years because he had threatened to take
the pet if they split up.
Another woman, Rachelle, would come home from her job at a factory and
lie outside with her dogs and cats until her abusive partner fell asleep
inside, making it safe to go in.
The 34-year-old said they were her lifeline before she got up the courage
to leave; the only things that gave her comfort or the will to live. "If I
wouldn't have had them, I would have been dead."
oth women were part of a new study by the University of Windsor that explores
the often complex relationship between the victims of domestic violence and
Their names have been changed to protect their identities.
Over the past few years, women's advocates, veterinarians and researchers
have begun to uncover surprising and at times troubling information about the
connection, including the fact that many women often stay in unsafe situations
rather than leave their pet behind.
Amy Fitzgerald, who led the University of Windsor study, said many of her
subjects acknowledged that their relationship with their animals may have
actually prolonged their abuse.
"For some abused women, their pets provide them with the support they need to
cope with the abuse, which may result in their staying with their partner longer
than they think they otherwise would have."
Dr. Fitzgerald interviewed 26 women over eight months for the study, called
They Gave Me a Reason to Live: The Protective Effects of Companion Animals on
the Suicidality of Abused Women, published in the April edition of the journal
Humanity and Society. She found that animals can both help women and lead them
to put themselves in danger. Three of the women she talked to said their pets
stopped them from taking their own lives, but 44 per cent of her subjects said
they delayed leaving their partners because of their animals.
These two discoveries have led her to conclude that women's shelters must
begin accepting pets, so that women no longer have to choose between their
safety and their animals.
Of the women she surveyed, some had been able to find family members to take
care of the pet temporarily, but others had left their pets with their partner.
Some women even sneaked out of shelters to go home and check on their pet,
putting their safety at risk.
Dr. Fitzgerald is calling on shelters to add facilities for pets so that
women do not have to agonize over the decision to leave a dangerous
"If we're serious about wanting women to feel comfortable leaving abusive
partners and feel that they can protect their children, we need to remove as
many barriers as possible," she said.
Lesley Ackrill, a spokeswoman for Interval House in Toronto, said the women's
shelter cannot currently accommodate pets, but she agreed that shelters must
begin to think about the issue.
"If they've witnessed their pet being abused, to have to leave it there with
the abuser would be horrible, horrible," she said.
She does not know what kind of regulations would have to be met in order for
a shelter to house both people and pets, and said it is something Interval House
But Ms. Ackrill said Canadian shelters also have to take into account the
myriad cultural and religious backgrounds of the women they care for, some of
whom have very different attitudes toward animals.
"Some of them say they can stay in their room and sleep on the bed, and other
people they're not allowed to be touched by a pet," she said. "It is a lot more
complicated than you would think."
In the United States, steps are already being taken to implement change.
The American Humane Association has developed the Pets and Women's Shelters
(PAWS) Program to help shelters incorporate animals.
They have produced a 40-page guide to integrating pets, from the logistical
issues of where to put them to contending with the cultural issues of their
Although more than 700 shelters across the United States provide assistance
or referrals for placement of pets, only four shelters currently provide on-site
housing for animals.
This year, the AHA hopes to see 15 PAWS programs launched across the country.
In Ontario, women are currently referred to the Ontario Veterinary Medical
Association's SafePet Program, in which local vets will board animals while
their owners are in the shelter system.
Debbie Stoewen, a vet with the Pioneer Pet Clinic in Kitchener, Ont., sees a
constant stream of pets referred through the program.
In April, she housed a dog and two cats for a woman for more than a month,
even though the SafePet program generally houses animals for a maximum of two
weeks. Most animals are placed with foster families, but Dr. Stoewen said these
animals stayed with her.
"With this one particular woman, she did not want her pets separated," she
said. "So they stayed within our clinic."
Women who use the service can arrange to visit their animals, but Dr. Stoewen
agrees it would be better if the pets could stay with their owner throughout the
traumatic ordeal of starting their lives anew.
For more information on the SafePet program, visit ovma.org/pet_owners/safepet.html.
For the PAWS program guide, visit americanhumane.org.
Our commentary in the Globe and MailRemember, for every abused
woman there is an abused man. Abusers are generally those with the power in
relationships of any form.
Often psychological abuse is far more damaging than physical violence. Just ask
any man who can't see his kids if he would take another smack in the head in
exchange for seeing his kids. Thats a literal no brainer.
Pets are used as weapons. Many women and men who cannot have children or cannot
afford to have children devote their affection to a pet. Its a form of
replacement of love and affection that could be essential to anyone going
through severe stressors of any form.
Some will attempt to harm or kill a pet. A classic example is taking the
partner's pet to the vet and having it "put to sleep".
It's not a criminal offense, it means diddly squat in family or criminal court
but it is in effect a hell of a lot more damaging than any physical assault.
So what does it mean? Those who will harm a pet or have a pet put down to cause
emotional harm are some where off the normal mental health scale and earning a
score in the direction of being a psychopath, it indicates a propensity to seek
gratification and pleasure by causing harm to others and that's not unique to
men or women.
When you read this article about "women's shelters" spare a thought for the fact
that for every abused woman there is an abused man and abused men in Canada
don't have any shelters to go to let alone a place for their pets.
Our government sends judges to "feminist brainwashing courses" where they get "reeducated"
on feminist doctrine all portraying men as violent abusers and women as victims.
Our police forces operate with a knee jerk reaction to any call by a woman
making almost any outragious complaint without any evidence while all too
frequently thinking its funny when attending a call where the male is the
obvious victim and guess who usually gets charged.
- Posted 12/06/08 at 7:04 PM EDT