Impact On Pets

Animals: The Forgotten Victims

What happens to the companion animals caught in the cycle of domestic violence? 

  • Many animals become witness to abuse of the people they love; these pets can become afraid and withdrawn, or fearful. 
  • Many animals become “accustomed” to the chaos and yelling that often accompanies abuse. These animals may be become withdrawn, or may regress to earlier stages of behavior (chewing, housebreaking problems) out of fear and frustration. 
  • Many animals become victims of abuse, themselves. While animals tend to be remarkably forgiving—and are willing to give people another chance even after they’ve been hurt—the consequences of abuse can be wide-ranging. 
  • An animal may become withdrawn and fearful. 
  • An animal may become aggressive when afraid (especially when exposed to the abuser, or someone who reminds him of the abuser)

Why harm animals?
Experts have long-recognized the link between violence perpetrated against intimate partners, children, family members, and that against animals. In violent homes, animals may become pawns, with abusers threatening (or carrying out) acts of violence against a beloved pet. Very often, if a person punches, kicks, throws or hurts an animal, he or she may harm a person as well – especially a child. Likewise, in a home where there is emotional or physical abuse, pets may also be at risk. 

Abusive persons may threaten to harm, inflict harm, or even kill a family pet for a number of reasons: 

  • To demonstrate power and control over the family and force the family members to keep the violence a secret 
  • To keep the victim from leaving, or to punish her for leaving 
  • To isolate the victim and children 
  • To prevent a child from reporting sexual abuse 
  • To extort an elderly person 

Pet Safety Plan

How can a victim of violence in the home protect their pets?
Victims concerned for the safety of companion animals can take some simple steps to protect their beloved pets. 

  • Plan Ahead! If violent behavior could ever occur, an emergency plan and a safe place to stay can keep people – and animals – from being a target. Planning alleviates the stress of worrying about what could happen. Most importantly, it helps ensure that children and pets do not become unintended victims. 
  • Keep Plans Confidential! In the midst of great anger, violent people may pursue potential victims – this could include family members or pets. That’s why the safest alternative could be a shelter unknown to the abuser or a program like SAFE. The location of the victim and pets should always remain a secret from the abuser. 
  • Be Prepared To Prove Pet Ownership - Establish ownership of the pet(s) through animal licenses, proof of vaccinations, veterinary receipts, etc, and keep these in a safe, easily accessible location. SAFE will work with you to offer other suggestions, if needed. 
  • When Possible – Make Sure Pets are Vaccinated - For the health of temporary caretakers and their household, all animals must be up-to-date on shots and spay/neutered. Maintain vaccination and other veterinary records in a safe, easily accessible place. If records are missing, contact the animals veterinarian for a copy. If necessary, SAFE will provide assistance. 
  • Develop a Checklist - Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice with the items animals most need, including: 
    • Vaccination and medical records 
    • License or other proof of ownership 
    • Identification tags
    • Leashes and collars 
    • Pet carriers, if available 
    • Medication, if needed 
  • Prepare an Information Sheet - explaining your pet’s food preferences, feeding schedule, medical conditions, medications and schedules, likes and dislikes, and any possible behavioral problems temporary caretakers should know. 
  • Know Where To Go! If a friend or family member can safely tend to your pets, make arrangements in advance - know how to reach them at all times. 

Call SAFE at 216-970-3035



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