Story by Claire Sheridan Images courtesy of Emerge! Domestic Violence Center
You would probably do almost anything to protect the people you love, your partner or spouse, children, parents, friends, other family. How about your furry family members? Do you ache when you know they are hurt or suffering?
For people living with domestic violence, these emotions become all too readily combined. An abusive family member is often someone that a victim feels compelled to protect; the relationship has components of both love and abuse.
An all-too-often overlooked component of domestic violence s the presence of pets in an abusive home. Pets provide unconditional love, emotional support, stress relief and a whole host of other positive benefits in the lives of all animal lovers. In domestic violence pets may be the only consistent source of positivity in the lives of those living with abuse. The abuser is well aware of this connection, and more than willing to use it against the victim. This is the untenable reality many pet-owning domestic violence victims face, and it complicates the victim’s decision about remaining with the abuser even further.
According to the American Humane Association, children growing up in the United States today are more likely to have a pet than a father at home.1 Increasingly, the presence of pets in their lives is becoming a foregone conclusion.
Data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence showed that 71% of pet-owning women entering abuse shelters reported that their abuser had injured, maimed, threatened or killed pets. An additional 40% of abused women stayed in an abusive home because they refused to leave their pets behind.2
As of 2017, 32 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico had legislation that included provisions for pets in domestic violence protection orders.3 Arizona law allows courts to grant exclusive custody of animal(s) to the person seeking protection. The animal(s) may belong to the person seeking protection, the alleged abuser, or to the children of the household. The law further provides that an alleged abuser may be forbidden from having any contact with the animal (A. R. S. § 13-3602).4
Locally, Tucson’s EMERGE! Center Against Domestic Violence wrestles with this very problem. Unfortunately, the confidential shelter program at Emerge provides only communal living options for victims who flee their abusive homes. Consequently, the program is unable to co-house victims with their pets. Emerge partners with an agency that will place the victim’s pet(s) in a separate confidential location, which is an alternative to leaving pets with the abuser. However, this limitation means that local domestic violence victims are faced with having to separate from their pet, which may be the only reliable relationship and support to the victim, if they choose to leave home for the safe haven of the Emerge shelter.
Chief Operating Officer, Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, stated that the shelter program consistently operates above capacity. Emerge must routinely find alternative safe housing options for high lethality risk victims contacting the program. On any given day, it is not uncommon for Emerge to have twice the number of victims in alternative safe housing as they can accommodate in their shelter facility. Requests for help from victims seeking protection for themselves and their pets has increased.
Mercurio-Sakwa said, “Many victims of domestic violence face enormous challenges in finding safety, and their concern for the well-being of their beloved pets is far too often one of those barriers. Threats to, or actual abuse of, pets is a very common tactic used in domestic violence situations as a means of coercion and control. Helping victims find safety includes finding safety for those they love the most, including children and/or pets. Ending domestic violence is about protecting and saving the lives of all innocent victims, including the 4-legged ones, in a violent household.”
If you are a pet owner facing domestic violence, the American Humane Association recommends that victims avoid leaving animals behind with abusers… [keep] all pet records and vaccinations up-to-date, and [plan] ahead for pet-shelter options with veterinarians, friends or local animal shelters.5
This holiday season, Emerge will again be hosting its annual Holiday House, where participants are given the opportunity to “shop” for gifts for their family members at no cost. In past events, every family received a bag of toiletries, a blanket, scarves, mittens, a winter hat, one large gift and two small gifts. Every child also received a stuffed animal and a book. Please consider donating new, unwrapped items to stock Holiday House before mid-December.
As a nonprofit organization, donations to Emerge are eligible for an Arizona State Charitable Tax Credit. For more information and options for donating, please check out Emerge’s website: www.emergecenter.org or call the administrative office at: 520-795-8001.
If you or someone you know is in a Domestic Violence relationship and is ready to get help locally, call Emerge’s 24-hour Crisis Line: 888-428-0101. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-7233.