Leaving a violent or abusive relationship poses countless difficulties for victims and their families. But now, survivors of domestic violence might have one less struggle to overcome as they attempt to flee harmful situations: according to a new report from the Associated Press, more and more domestic violence shelters are becoming pet friendly, allowing families -- whole families -- to stay together in times of crisis.
Of more than 50 shelters in New York City, the AP found one, run by the Urban Resource Institute, which has allowed survivors to bring their cats and "pocket pets" (such as gerbils and hamsters) since June:
Animal welfare and domestic violence groups have found common cause in recent years amid growing interest in connections between animal cruelty and family abuse. Those links have spurred about two dozen states to start letting pets be included in protective orders since 2006; others are considering it, including New Hampshire and Ohio.
Studies have found about 70 percent of domestic violence survivors say their batterers also threatened, injured or killed their pets, and 25 to 50 percent say they delayed fleeing out of fear of what would happen to animals left behind, said psychologist Randall Lockwood, an ASPCA senior vice president.
Concern for pets has been known to keep the humans who love them in a variety of difficult situations, not only abusive ones. A study of homeless pet-owners in California found that the vast majority of individuals polled (96 percent of women and 93 percent of men) would turn down the opportunity to stay in a shelter if it did not extend to their pets as well. As a result, a number of homeless shelters have started to open their doors to dogs, cats and other animals, recognizing that it might be the only way to get humans inside as well.
It seems that domestic violence shelters are following suit nationwide, social workers are coming to recognize the important link between saving a human's life and that of their pet. For many of the survivors who stay in pet-friendly shelters, the opportunity to bring their animals with them feels like a real chance to start over. "[Having my cats is] very healing for me," said Pamela Isaac, a domestic abuse survivor. "We take care of each other."