When a pet owner becomes a victim of domestic violence, the effects can be devastating for everyone in the household — pets included. Battered women who seek help from an advocacy agency or women’s shelter can find ways to transition into a safer environment, but it’s not always easy for those victims to care for their pets in the midst of such trying circumstances.
Many women’s shelters are unable to accommodate pets, which can add another layer of distress to an already challenging situation. Anxiety about a pet can multiply the grief experienced by abused women who leave their spouses.
To help alleviate these worries, a number of innovative pet shelters and organizations around the country are stepping up to provide safe haven for pets of abuse victims. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri (APAMO), for example, works directly with women’s shelters and anti-violence agencies in the St. Louis area to offer a temporary home for cats and dogs whose owners have experienced domestic violence. Some are cared for directly in pet shelters, while others are placed in supportive foster homes.
According to Steven Kaufman, APAMO’s executive director, supporting victims of spousal abuse is an important part of the work his team does every year, even if they don’t promote it as actively as they do with other community outreach programs. That’s because it’s often best to keep a pet’s location confidential in order to keep them from getting unduly caught up in domestic conflicts.
“[The program] costs a significant amount of money each year, but we make it work,” Kaufman says. “We fund it ourselves, we look for grants and donations to keep it going. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
While under the care of APAMO shelter staff or affiliated foster families, pets are provided with free vaccinations, spaying/neutering services and complete, balanced nutrition. Kaufman’s team checks in with victims and their counselors regularly to make sure progress is being made toward a new permanent home where pets can be safely reunited with their owners.
As with any case of domestic violence, the primary goal is for women to find the support they need to move beyond an abusive relationship and into a safe, sustainable household. With the help of organizations like APAMO, victims can make this difficult journey with peace of mind knowing that the pets they love will be there waiting for them on the other side.