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Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Resources for pet lovers leaving abusive situations are slowly growing

A recent study by the University of Illinois found that 34 percent of women have delayed leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. And I've seen that number as high as 48 percent in past research. It's a problem that keeps people and animals in dangerous situations.

As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina are teaming up in support of URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. Purina is donating welcome kits with food, cat litter, toys, and other supplies, as well as educational materials for families entering URI's largest domestic violence shelter.

The collaboration aims to make people feel welcome with their pets since families leaving abusive situations often move out quickly, without time to plan or pack supplies. They also hope to raise awareness on the impact of abuse on the whole family, including animals.

URIPALS is in a six-month pilot phase and is currently accepting families with cats and smaller animals. They hope to expand the program to include dogs this December.  

Unfortunately few shelters are as progressive or have the necessary resources as URI does to accept animals. So the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is tackling the lack of pet friendly domestic violence shelters by providing their own safe haven for cats and dogs until women in local shelters can find housing.  

“It would be ideal if the pet was able to stay with the woman at the shelter, but you’d need a reasonably well socialized and non-aggressive animal for that, and it would require a major shift in facilities and training for shelter personnel,” said Marcella Ridgway, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

The University of Illinois also had advice for how domestic violence shelter staff and veterinarians can help people leaving abusive situations.  

For domestic violence shelter staff:

  • Inform women seeking shelter about safe haven programs and other emergency resources for pets, preferably before they arrive at the shelter
  • Provide opportunities for women to discuss their pets
  • Incorporate pets into active safety planning efforts
  • Educate and train staff about sensitive approaches that acknowledge that women have different bonds to their pets
  • Collaborate with community partners to develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets

For veterinary professionals:

  • Help spread the word about safe haven programs and emergency resources for pets
  • Become educated and promote awareness about the links between domestic violence and pet abuse
  • Be knowledgeable and nonjudgmental with clients who disclose domestic violence
  • Address pet health care issues in an honest and thorough but nonjudgmental manner, using a triaged approach to avoid overwhelming clients
  • Assist clients in consideration of rational choices for long-term planning for pets
  • Collaborate with community partners to develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets
  • Contribute to broader professional discussions about effective veterinary approaches to domestic violence, including routine screening

Hopefully URIPALS and the University of Illinois' program will inspire other similar initiatives around the country.

 

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Jenny Poole/flickr.

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