The statistics are staggering; every nine seconds, another woman in the United States is beaten, according to the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. While violence against women often takes place behind closed doors and isn’t always visible to others, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Chances are, if there are children involved, they, too, are facing some sort of abuse, whether it is physical or emotional.
Victims of domestic violence fear for the safety of their children and themselves, and also for the safety of their pets. Up to 48 percent of domestic abuse victims will either delay leaving or possibly remain in a volatile situation because they don’t want to be separated from their beloved animals and are afraid of what may happen if they leave them behind. For the abuser, the victim's bond with a pet offers another way to exert control and instill even greater fear.
In the U.S., there are approximately 73 million companion animals, and there are 1.3 million victims of partner violence annually, with 85 percent of the victims being women. A victim may need to make an immediate escape to avoid a potentially life-threatening situation, but planning that escape can take time. There are a variety of factors to consider, including where they can safely leave their pets. While some are able to make arrangements with family and friends, not everyone has those outlets to turn to. While they know they can seek refuge and find assistance in a domestic violence shelter, not all of those shelters are able to welcome animals, thus making an already stressful situation that much more intense.
To run a pet-friendly shelter, it takes resources and money to outfit the facility with the proper tools to accommodate animals of all different sizes. Thanks to the AKC Humane Fund grant, more shelters across the country are now able to offer a safe haven for humans affected by domestic violence and for their animals, as well.
Established in 2007, the fund’s mission is to promote responsible pet ownership through education, outreach, and grant making. “Grants are awarded on a rolling basis to not-for-profit domestic violence shelters that accept pets and to not-for-profit animal shelters that provide services for domestic violence shelters,” says Daphna Straus, secretary of the AKC Humane Fund, Inc. While the number of pets housed in a domestic violence shelter is among the many factors that determine funding need, all eligible organizations are invited to apply for AKC Humane Fund grants.
“The grant makes all the difference in the world,” says Jolanda Ingram-Obie, program director for Harrington House in Crescent City, Calif. A two-time recipient, the shelter received its first grant in March of 2010, which allowed for the construction of two outdoor kennels, as well as purchasing vet visits for animals that might be in need of medical attention. A few months ago, Harrington House received its second grant.
“This time I applied for a three-year grant, which will continue to help us over the next few years,” says Ingram-Obie. Harrington House has already added an additional kennel a bit closer on the property, along with the purchase of portable crates that will allow participants to have their pets in their room if they choose. Ingram-Obie says that the Harrington House staff believes having a pet close by can be helpful for the victim who has already experienced so much trauma.
Other necessities such as leashes were purchased for owners, so they can keep their pets right next to them while walking throughout the facility.
Harrington House opened as an emergency shelter in 1985 and became a transitional shelter, as well, in 2016. The shelter is able to provide victims with shelter for a longer period until more permanent housing is found. With the help of the AKC Humane Fund grant, the staff at Harrington House has been able to help its participants feel more at home and give them a sense of ease.
“Pet-friendly shelters are important because the participants won’t feel safe if they have to leave their pets behind, especially if they have children who are emotionally attached to the animal; they are going to be re-traumatized not having them there,” says Ingram-Obie.
With any shelter, the number one concern is the safety of those seeking assistance. In Tulsa, Okla., Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS), an 80-bed emergency facility and 20-unit transitional housing program, built a completely new shelter 2-1/2 years ago for the specific purpose of converting completely to a pet-friendly facility.
While the previous shelter ran for 25 years, DVIS knew it needed a safe space for residents to bring their pets. “We had families who experienced trauma, and their pets were their support system, and we saw the importance of that,” says Chelsea Foreman, assistant shelter director for DVIS. “We had that in our minds when designing this new space and found the AKC Humane Fund grant to help make this possible.”
DVIS received its first three-year grant in 2014, and it plans to reapply this fall. Since the new facility opened, DVIS has served close to 200 animals. Separate kennel spaces for dogs and cats, along with dog runs and an outdoor fenced-in climbing area for cats are some of the amenities now available for the animals.
A part-time kennel technician is also on staff to help owners provide the necessary care needed, whatever it may be. From routine health care to assisting with walks, feeding, and other everyday responsibilities, the staff members at DVIS pull together to make sure the animals are well taken care of.
Harrington House and DVIS do not restrict pets based on size or breed, and there are no limits on how many pets one person can bring. And if there isn’t enough room in the shelter to accommodate an animal, the staff does its best to help find temporary care until space becomes available.
“Changing over to a 100 percent pet-friendly facility was a great move,” says DeJon Knapp, DVIS vice president of safe housing services. “I’ve seen the biggest improvement in client morale and their outlook; it’s like they are not only fighting for a better life for themselves, but for their pets as well.”
At DVIS, the staff has seen an increase in enthusiasm in regard to coming to the shelter. In difficult times, knowing that a facility will accommodate a pet helps alleviate some of the worry and removes a lot of barriers for them. “We have people come to us more quickly than before we had the kennel,” observes Foreman. “Although I do think a lot of those survivors would have gotten to us, just maybe not as quickly as they are now.”
For victims of domestic violence, Ingram-Obie suggests putting a plan into place if possible, including one for the pet. Documents such as shot records, medications, and anything else related to your animal should be included. Victims also have the opportunity to work with an advocate who will help navigate next steps, before and after they leave the home.
Turning a shelter into a pet-friendly safe haven is possible, thanks to resources like the AKC Humane Fund grant. “For other agencies considering making the change, it might seem like an unsurmountable thing to do, but it is worth it to see so many survivors succeed in ways I didn’t see at our previous shelter,” says Knapp.
To learn more about the AKC Humane Fund grant and to make a donation, click here.