For many years, experts have documented the link between violence perpetrated against people and that against animals. An abuser in a domestic violence situation may abuse, threaten to abuse, or even kill a family pet to exert power and control over the family members. All too frequently in an abuse case, animals are used to perpetuate terror and powerlessness or to keep the victim from leaving or to punish her for doing so.
Pets offer comfort and unconditional love. Women living with domestic violence often delay leaving an abusive situation because they want to protect their beloved pets. Animals left behind with abusers often are neglected and frequently become targets of abuse. Leaving them behind in the hands of the abuser is an unthinkable option, yet victims may not have a friend or family member who is willing or able to take in both the family and the pets.
Although shelters exist for women and children fleeing violence, until recently there was no shelter to accommodate the pets. Safety for Animals and Families in Emergencies (SAFE) was founded to provide a sanctuary for the companion animals of women who make the courageous decision to leave their homes and seek safety from domestic violence.
SAFE collaborates with Clevelandâ€™s Domestic Violence Center, Lorain Countyâ€™s Genesis House and the Cleveland Animal Protective League and serves all of northeastern Ohio with the criteria being the need for help arises out of a violent situation.
SAFE serves all victims of violence, which, in addition to domestic violence, may include a rape victim staying with a family member unable to take her pets or a senior who was mugged and needs a place for their pets while theyâ€™re temporarily hospitalized. The pet owner signs a contract giving SAFE temporary custody of the pet until it can be reunited in a safe environment with its owner.
In the case of domestic violence, itâ€™s best if the pet can be taken when the family flees to meet with a SAFE representative at a pre-arranged location, but other arrangements can be made to retrieve the animal later if necessary. The pet is taken to a SAFE-affiliated veterinary clinic where they generally are held for 24 to 48 hours before being placed in foster care. All pets are given a wellness check and must be spayed/neutered to enter the program. Help is available for people unable to afford medical costs.
Animals coming from a domestic violence home often have been victims themselves, whether itâ€™s been physical abuse or being in an environment that is violently verbal with screaming, yelling and crying. It has an impact on them as it does the children, said Lesley Ashworth, SAFEâ€™s executive director.
Some can become afraid and withdrawn or fearful. Others may exhibit chewing or housebreaking problems. Still others may become aggressive when afraid, especially when exposed to someone that reminds him of the abuser. The pet is placed in a carefully screened foster home experienced in caring for animals with special needs. They realize an animal that has been a part of a chaotic household will need a calm, quiet place in which to regain trust. While the specifics of the foster home are kept confidential, the owner is given updates about the pet by the domestic violence counselor. Pets can stay in the foster home for up to 30 days, but the time can be extended as long as a re-unification is being worked toward. If the owner needs to find a new home for the pet, SAFE will work with the owner to help them find a loving, permanent home.
While their resources are limited, they accommodate as many pets as possible. Cats have been a challenge, due to many people having more than one cat and the need for a quarantine period to be sure theyâ€™re free of potential viruses.
â€œWeâ€™re hoping to build a small cattery for the initial stay until they can be moved to a foster home,â€ said Ashworth.
SAFE also offers education and training to the primary responders for victims, including law enforcement officers, social workers, childrenâ€™s services and animal control officers.
â€œWith training for all the primary contacts of a victim of violence, we may be able to negate situations before they happen,â€ said Ashworth. â€œThere is a cruelty connection that we need to pay attention to and have inter-agency communication for the intervention of abuse. SAFE also provides literature to victims to assist them in developing a safety plan for their animals.â€
Leaving a home to seek safety from domestic violence is a difficult and courageous decision. For victims of violence, SAFE alleviates the trauma that theyâ€™ve gone through by ensuring the peace of mind that comes with knowing their pet will be out of harmâ€™s way and cared for until they are reunited.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at pet
firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.