#WhyILeft: Because Pets Are Now Allowed In More Women’s Shelters

Rachel Leavy
by Rachel Leavy
Women may choose to stay in an abusive relationship because they don’t want to leave their dog behind. The good news is an increasing number of women’s shelters now allow pets.

In the United States, a woman is a victim of domestic violence every 15 seconds. One in four women will experience domestic violence within their lifetime, and it’s also one of the most under-reported crimes in our society. Abuse can be physical or emotional, and the effects are devastating. The Twitter hashtag is a heartbreaking account of people who have been in an abusive relationship and why they remained. The purpose of the movement is to shed light on an issue that is commonly overlooked. The reasons range from feelings of helplessness, to deserving it, financial issues, religious beliefs and even the family pet.
For more information on domestic abuse see the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

There is an undeniable connection between domestic violence and animal abuse. People who abuse don’t always stick to one victim. Abuse is a personality trait with the desired outcome being complete control, and submission of the victim. If a husband abuses his wife, it’s not unheard for him to abuse the children or family pet as well. According to the ASPCA, statistics show that women who enter shelters are up to 11 times more likely to admit their husband was abusive or killed their pet. The site also states that women can be up to 48 percent less likely to leave an abusive situation because of their pet. Our pets are our family, and are sources of comfort during difficult times. It doesn’t strike me as odd that a person wouldn’t want to leave their dog in the clutches of an abuser. In fact, I believe it shows courage to not abandon a pet.
The Silver Lining

Fortunately for victims of abuse, the above Tweet is no longer entirely true. The ASPCA and other women’s organizations have been rallying to change this in an effort to help save both women and their pets. Shelters are popping up across the United States and Canada that will work with people who have pets. There are a few options available to women who have a pet: the shelter allows the woman to bring her pet with her; they have a boarding facility for such pets; or they help to organize a temporary foster care for the animal until the woman gets back on her feet.

Pet-Friendly Shelters

Across the United States and in Canada, more and more shelters are beginning to recognize the importance of allowing pets. The idea that a pet could be in danger if the victim was to leave is something that doesn’t sit well with anyone, especially the staff at Gateway Battered Women’s Shelter in Colorado. The shelter has temporary housing in both Aurora and Arapahoe counties. In the beginning the shelter was only for humans, but after receiving multiple calls from women saying they couldn’t leave without their pets, the shelter staff began to acknowledge that perhaps something needed to be done.

I spoke with Donna Sims, Coordinator at Gateway Battered Women’s shelter and she gave me insight on what prompted the change. She explained that at first, the shelter worked with local rescues for boarding, but that wasn’t enough. Women didn’t want to be apart from their animals after a traumatic event, and it wasn’t a good situation for the animal either. Rebuilding a life on consistency is important in these situations, and it was much better for the pet to be with the owner.

The first step was to build an outdoor kennel that allowed dogs to stay on the same property as the shelter. But fate would change the shelter’s policy. According to Sims, in a serendipitous turn of events, the shelter flooded, and while rebuilding the floors, they opted to leave carpet out of a few of the rooms. This made it possible for animals to stay with their owner for up to 30 days in the emergency housing.

“When we looked at the big picture, we could see where it could be helpful,” said Sims. After grants from the AKC, the shelter has been able to renovate to accommodate multiple animals. It is a first-come, first-serve basis with a screening process. The owner of the pet is entirely responsible, and they take precautions to avoid conflict. For example: people are notified upon calling for shelter that there’s a pet in the facility, just in case they have allergies.”

As of 2014, the shelter has had over 500 night stays with pets. “We’ve been really happy we’ve made that decision,” said Sims.

For more information on this shelter or to donate, please visit the Gateway Battered Women’s Shelter website.

Boarding Facilities

Not all women’s shelters have the capacity to allow pets, so many partner with animal shelters and boarding facilities to house pets of the victim. The Lost Our Home Pet Foundation in Tempe, Arizona is an example of a boarding facility that caters to emergency situations. They have what’s called a Temporary Care Program that allows dogs, cats and other pets to board at a tremendous discounted rate for a short period of time. This program is for domestic abuse victims with pets, people who have been evicted, foreclosed, are homeless or require emergency medical treatment. The pet must be spayed/neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations and arrangements must be made prior to bringing the pet.

Temporary Foster

The last option is to work with the shelter to find a temporary foster while the victim of abuse gets back on her feet. I called around to a few of the local shelters in my area posing this question and the response was incredibly positive. Small shelters are aware that pets often get left behind in domestic abuse situations, either leaving them in danger or landing them in an animal shelter down the road. The general response was that yes, the shelters would temporarily hold a pet for someone trying to get back on their feet. This way the animal is safely cared for, and is guaranteed a home as soon as the victim is stable again.

Over the years dogs have gone from being in the backyard, to inside the home, to becoming a cherished family member. It’s a well-known fact that pets provide many benefits during a person’s time of need, especially after a traumatic event. No woman should EVER be forced to stay in a situation with abuse no matter what the situation is. No woman should ever be made to feel ashamed of her situation, regardless of her reason for staying or leaving. Every woman should have the right to a safe, happy life, and many shelters realize that a woman’s pet plays a crucial role to obtaining that goal.

If you or someone you know are ever in immediate danger, call the police. Listed below are links that can help when you or someone you know are victims of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Help

  • The Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or for TTY 1-800-787-3224
  • DomesticViolence.org
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Violence Unsilenced
  • Canada Hotline: 1-800-363-9010
  • UK Hotline: 0808 2000 247

Directories of Shelters that Allow Pets

  • Pets of the Homeless
  • The Human Society Safe Haven
  • SAF-T Shelters

Information on the Link between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

  • Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
  • American Humane Society
  • National Link Coalition
  • Animal Legal Defense Fund

Information on Domestic Abuse

Rachel Leavy lives in Rochester, New York with her dog, Maria, and her gecko, Nigel. She has loved animals all her life, and has owned her own dog training and walking company for five years. When she’s not playing with puppies, she can usually be found writing short stories, riding horses or out at a play.
Rachel Leavy
Rachel Leavy

Rachel Leavy lives in Rochester, New York with her dog, Maria, and her gecko, Nigel. She has loved animals all her life, and has owned her own dog training and walking company for five years. When she's not playing with puppies, she can usually be found writing short stories, riding horses or out at a play.

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