WEST MILFORD, NJ, OCTOBER 6, 2012–Fleeing an abusive situation is a difficult decision for victims of domestic abuse, and for some, the worry and fear that their pets will suffer abuse if left behind, complicates the decision to leave. Shelter Our Pets, Inc. an all volunteer, non-profit corporation serving New Jersey, provides temporary shelter, medical care, and behavioral rehabilitation for the animals of domestic abuse victims.
“The decision to leave a batterer is extremely difficult, and when the victim considers the only source of comfort—a family pet—may have to be left behind, it only complicates an already emotional decision,” said Lynn Gregorski, a founder of Shelter Our Pets. “Many domestic violence shelters cannot provide shelter for a family pet, as well as the victim. If we can lift this one burden for the victim it may encourage the abuse victim to leave the situation, knowing the family pet will be safe.”
Domestic violence and animal abuse are not mutually exclusive according to the American Humane Association. In fact, one becomes fodder for the other. For example, 71 % of pet-owning women entering shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals in response to abuse situations.
Psychological control is often the motive of a batterer, and pets can be used very effectively. Statistics from the American Humane Association show 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals, with 87% of these incidents occurring in the presence of the victim and 75% in the presence of the children.
Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock should they leave. Further, theAssociation found, pets may suffer unexplained injuries, health problems, permanent disabilities at the hands of abusers, or disappear from home.
Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said “The Humane Society of the United States applauds Shelter our Pets for protecting all victims of domestic violence by allowing the victims to leave an abusive situation knowing their pets are in a safe place.”
According to Shelter Our Pets founding member Laura Mann, Esq., “In the short term we want abuse victims to know we will be there to take care of the animals; over the long-term, we hope to be able to offer a facility where the survivors and their pets can remain together safely, while they break free from their lives of abuse. We seek to fill the gap in addressing this unmet need of survivors to hopefully play a small role in breaking the cycle of abuse and the torture of animals that also endure the cruelty of these abusers.”
Beatriz Wawra, Director of Crisis Services at Shelter Our Sisters, which provides aid and shelter to abused women, added, “Shelter Our Pets is a much needed service that will benefit victims of domestic violence. We have had calls, wherein the caller wants to know if it is considered domestic violence when a partner is hurting a family pet after an argument. My answer is ‘yes’. This behavior can escalate to a more dangerous situation for the victim.”
Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble. In 2011, the NJ legislators passed a bill which permits the court to include animals in domestic violence restraining orders. NJ Senator Thomas Kean Jr. said, “While the new law provides legal shelter for the victims of domestic abuse and their pets, this new volunteer service will provide actual shelter for these animals, thus ensuring that domestic abuse victims no longer have to choose between leaving their home for safety and protecting their beloved pets. I am so pleased that Shelter Our Pets has recognized the void that existed in this area, and has worked toward providing a much-needed resource in the effort to protect victims of domestic abuse. “
NJ Assemblywoman, Connie Wagner, who co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly said, “The public has become far more aware of the horrors some pets face at the hands of abusive spouses and partners. I applaud the work of Shelter Our Pets and other organizations as they provide services for at-risk pets that are being protected under the new law.”
In addition to Mann and Gregorski, Shelter Our Pets founding Trustees include Melissa Neiss, Director, Montclair Township Animal Shelter.