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When Pets Are the Overlooked Victims of Domestic-Violence Cases

| October 14, 2013

Children's services don't usually have rom for pets. (Fake Plastic Alice)

Children’s services don’t usually have rom for pets. (Fake Plastic Alice)

Leandra Preston-Sidler

Many of us consider pets as family members. Some refer to pets as “children” and treat them as such. I am guilty of the latter and will do anything for my dogs, including spending too much money on their needs, letting them sleep in our bed (pillows included) and generally spoiling them rotten.

I don’t just love my dogs, I am slightly obsessed with them. If you have four legs, you can easily weasel your way into my heart. It’s not as easy to do if you have two legs; I tend to like people, too, but I’m just a little more suspicious of them.

Believing that pets are family members with just as much right to love and safety as humans is part of the reason a few years ago I established Animal Safehouse of Brevard, a nonprofit organization that provides foster care to pets of women seeking shelter from domestic violence. Unless one has been in such a situation, what happens to pets in these cases has probably never been a consideration for you.

I came across the idea reading an article in People magazine in 2007 about a woman in California who started such a program in conjunction with the Humane Society in Rancho Coastal. I had long been an animal lover and an activist against domestic violence, and realized that if I had never thought about the connection, most other folks probably hadn’t either.

I contacted local domestic-violence shelters to see if they took pets or if programs were in place to care for pets while women were in shelter, but found that there were no resources for four-legged victims of family violence. Some people are fortunate enough to have family and friends who would assist them in such a situation but one of the common features of domestic violence is isolation; often the very circumstances that enable such violence to reach a point where a woman needs shelter are the same that mean there is nowhere for her pets to go.

Domestic violence is complex, largely gender-based, rooted in power and control, and what some of us may think about “just leaving,” it is not so simple. In addition to economic, practical, and psychological considerations, what to do with a pet is another piece of the equation.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 50 percent of women seeking shelter reported they had left their pet with their batterer and 71 percent of pet owners entering domestic-violence shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured or killed family pets. The relationship between human and animal violence is well established and in domestic violence situations pets may be used as tools of control and abuse, particularly after the victim flees. Safe havens serve dual purposes: They remove a barrier that keeps women in domestic-violence situations and they provide safety for animals when women leave home.

context floridaA quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” speaks to the intersection of the treatment of all members of a society, humans and animals alike.

As a meat-eating society, our relationship with animals is fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies.

Many view dogs and cats differently than cows or pigs: “Domestic” animals are family members while farm animals are food. This tension often leads to poor treatment of animals in domestic situations. Some consider animals family members while others consider them disposable or less than worthy of fair and just treatment.

I see it often. Some animals that are taken in are abused, others may be well treated but later abandoned.

Such is the state of the world that some dogs sleep on pillows while others are abused or slaughtered. Unfortunately, the same goes for the treatment of humans.

Domestic violence is a complex problem with many roots but thankfully resources are improving. For those in Central Florida, seeking safety from domestic violence for both women and pets can be a phone call away, as Harbor House Domestic Violence Shelter in Orlando now has a kennel for pets as part of its domestic-violence housing.

There are some simple ways everyone can help, such as donating money or food to local domestic-violence shelters so they can also care for the pets of their victims, or you might even offer to foster a pet for a shelter victim.

In a perfect world, such programs would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, however, this is not a perfect world, so join me and others in trying to raise society’s awareness, education and “moral progress” so that respect for all beings will become our new norm.

Leandra Preston-Sidler is an instructor in the University of Central Florida’s Women’s Studies. She can be reached at

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7 Responses for “When Pets Are the Overlooked Victims of Domestic-Violence Cases”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    Leandra darling, if you want to obsess about things we are subjected to that are” “rooted in power and control” and you really love your dog, I would suggest that you worry more about the safety of your pet prior to calling 911. Because the responding Police will kill your precious dog without thinking twice, and if you snap over that, they will kill you too. Don’t believe me? Here:

    And if you feel the need to bail on the Love of You’re Life you live with, try to show your Petlove by attempting to take the pets with you. Maybe you could prevent this disaster by planning your life better, starting by making better choices in men and being a stronger person. Like your Grandmother and Mother before you, do your best to handle the shit life shovels your way without the whining. Until you do, maybe you should ask yourself why in the hell you fell you think are qualified in any way to teach other women about how to navigate life when you admittedly can’t even comprehend how to protect your pets.

    Life is hard. Wear a cup and learn to deal with it. If you get really good at it, pass it on and teach others. If you can’t do better than this whining here stop proudly passing this passivity on to your students. And telling them and yourself that this is a knowledge of victimhood that women need to hear. If this is your idea of teaching, I hear Starbucks is hiring if you can pass on the art of percolation better than you have shown here. Bye.

    • Leandra Preston-Sidler says:

      I am sorry to hear such a vitriolic response to one person’s attempt to assist those trying to help themselves. The point is that the domestic violence survivors we assist DO take the animals with them–except most shelters don’t admit animals. Why is your anger directed at the women and children facing domestic violence rather than the individuals being violent? The issue of police violence is also real but not the focus of the article you respond to; perhaps you should write an article about that issue, as it is important, as well. I personally deal with life quite well every day and am lucky enough to have not been in a domestic violence situation but to see the need for our services and step in where I can. I teach students to think critically about the issues we deal with in our courses and to be proactive rather than passive so I think you may misunderstand the spirit from which I write from. I am not offended by your response but rather see it as fuel for the work I do, as attitudes such as yours keep the need for critical engagement, social justice, and compassion toward others alive.

      • NortonSmitty says:

        Leandra, if you want to know where my anger comes from or the more complicated subject of where I feel it should be marshaled and directed, limited and precious as it is, let me show you by pointing out one simple fact. The heart of your passive/aggressive argument designed to prey on my own guilt and demonize my “aggressive”point of view rests on your query ” Why is your anger directed at the women and children facing domestic violence rather than the individuals being violent?” Really?

        I suspected no less, and was not proven wrong.. Leandra, your only rebuttal to the point I was making is bullshit. Where did I say in my response disagreeing with your article did I say one word regarding anything remotely directing anger towards abuse victims? Where? I didn’t!

        The fact this distracting Herring is all you got to confront me with just confirms what somehow got me angry in the first place. And the core of my anger rests in the fact that you spout this weak-sister point of view that diminishes the inherent strengths of real women. Just because you believe you yourself were born without this gift does not give you the right to assume that all women were born with your perceived weakness, let alone teach your personal defect as “normal” to young, impressionable women placed under your care. And demonize those of us men who admire and envy the subtle strengths gifted to women who are not subjected to the indoctrination of insecure people like you.

        How is it you somehow are paid to convince them of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities? And then pat yourself on the back for how you enlightened them with your perception of the “normalness” of your personal defect that somehow you mistake for a marketable and teachable wisdom? That just not something you should take pride in.

        And the sad part is you yourself do not realize, trust or appreciate the strengths and wisdom that lies within you. You.

        I have witnessed otherwise, and have more respect for the undeniable gifts bestowed upon your sisters. So when the shit hits the fan, unless you have been brainwashed into knowing how weak you are, look deep and be confident despite of what you were taught are trust you will find a way to survive. And so will your dog. To believe anything less is to diminish who and what you are. And women deserve better than that.

  2. Anon says:

    Excellent, thought provoking article. I admit, I had never thought about what happens to pets in families where dv is an issue and the wife (or husband) is the victim and needs to leave. I have recently learned about Second Chance Rescue in Bunnell, and plan on learning more, donating and possibly volunteering to foster pets. They might be an excellent resource to connect with in our area for just this sort of thing. (They have a FB page, that’s how I found them). As an aside, I just read where Second Chance Rescue is in dire need of donations of puppy chow and/or dog food, and blankets for them to sleep on. (I’m not affiliated with them in any way, as I said I just heard about them, but I’m planning to drop off some puppy chow tomorrow). Like the author, I, too, have found my 4 legged family members to be more trustworthy and loyal than any of the two legged animals in my family, so far anyway :)

  3. blondee says:

    OH NORTON!!!! Seriously, I hope your daughter or niece or sister doesn’t get the snot beat out of her someday. Would your response to them be to just “handle the sh*t life shovels you”? smh

    • NortonSmitty says:

      I had a cousin married to a cop once. I found out he would come home drunk and beat her in about 1979. I had a serious discussion with him about it. He has been sober since and they have been married since 1977.

      I didn’t say you had to do it alone.

  4. confidential says:

    Whatever anyone does helping our domestic or wild animals is worth to give them a lot of credit and respect. All animals specially our pets are depending on us for a chance of survival in life.
    I sure value and appreciate the effort to make us aware and move our compassion to help them, from the writer. Thank you on behalf of those that can’t speak for themselves.
    Lets always try and help and if nothing else, donate some food to our local organizations caring for them.

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