No Dog Left Behind: Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelter Makes It Easier to Leave

Abusers use threats of harm toward animals to prevent victims from leaving.
(Photo: Urban Resource Institute/Facebook)
Oct 17, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Allowing victims of domestic violence to bring their pets into shelters will make them more likely to leave a violent relationship. That’s the conclusion of a report released this week from New York City’s first pet-friendly domestic violence shelters, the Urban Resource Institute.

The nonprofit group surveyed about 1,200 abused women from its emergency hotline from 2013 to 2015, with 71 percent of respondents saying they would like to bring their pets with them into the shelters. Pets are often used as leverage against victims as a means of maintaining control—30 percent of respondents said their abuser had threatened to hurt their pet. The institute’s findings support past studies, which have found that up to 50 percent of women delay leaving abusive situations out of concern for their pets.

Dog and cat owners are often quick to refer to their animals as members of their family. So it makes sense that when women find themselves in an abusive relationship, leaving a precious pet behind to find safety isn’t an acceptable option.

The Urban Resource Institute has opened two pet-friendly shelters—called PALS, or People and Animals Living Safely—in the past two years. It has also opened turf-filled dog parks at both shelters.

Many women in the PALS program found having their snuggly cats and loyal dogs by their side beneficial and therapeutic, according to the report.

“My pets calm my anxiety, panic attacks, and depression,” one woman responded.

PALS is the only program of its kind in the Big Apple and one of few across the country. The Urban Institute’s co-sheltering program has helped 43 families with a host of dogs, cats, and other small critters in the past two years, but it has also had to turn away 47 pet owners owing to lack of space.

Only 3 percent of shelters in the nation can accommodate pets, according to the Humane Society. Legislation was introduced to Congress earlier this year to protect domestic violence victims and their pets, including increased federal funds for pet shelters.