MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Finding Safety for Abused Animals Living in Domestic Violence Homes

Many women will not leave an abusive partner for fear of what the perpetrator will do to the animals in the house if she is not there. Does your state include pets in restraining orders if they are victims of animal cruelty or are threatened in a domestic violence situation? This is the second in a series of 3 posts taken from original articles on the link between animal and human abuse. Many women know there are safe houses for them to turn to if they are victims of domestic abuse. Women, children, and all victims of abuse also need to know there are resources, safe havens to turn to for protection for their pets. I encourage you to know the laws in your state regarding animal cruelty and protection orders.

This original article by Gabriela Sandoval  appeared in the American Dog Magazine, Fall, 2009

Domestic Violence
Human Victims, Animal Victims

What happens when victims of domestic violence have animals who are physically abused as well? How will one find a safe way out and also protect their beloved animal companions? What legal recourse is available and how can you help? While I am not an expert on domestic violence nor am I a therapist, I have come across this issue time and time again as an attorney representing both children in abusive homes and as a legal advocate for animals.

According to the ASPCA, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a study in which 84 percent of women and 63 percent of children who arrived at domestic violence shelters reported incidents of pet abuse. Abusers harm or threaten to harm animals for different reasons, including: to demonstrate power and control; instill terror and fear; gain cooperation; prevent a victim from leaving; coerce a victim to return by threatening to harm or kill the family pet; or to teach the victim "a lesson."

Victims of abuse are entrenched in a vicious cycle. Lives may be at risk. If you suspect domestic violence is happening to someone you know and have concerns about their animals as well, inquire about the animals. Friends may be more willing to talk about the abuse to their animals as opposed to abuse they themselves are experiencing. What are the signs? Abusers need to be in control. They may belittle, humiliate, criticize, yell, be overly possessive, limit access to money, friends, and family. Victims demonstrate fear of their partner, may become isolated, less available, have feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

Legal remedies that may be available vary from state to state as does the legal definition of "Domestic Violence." Some states include harm to or threats to harm a companion animal in their criminal definition when used as a means of intimidating or injuring a spouse or significant other. For example, Domestic Violence in Colorado now includes "a crime against an animal when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge." Also, in Colorado, a Protection Order (sometimes referred to as "restraining order") may now include an order "that prohibits the restrained person from contacting, harassing, injuring, intimidating, molesting, threatening or touching any protected animal, or from entering or remaining on premises, or from coming within a specified distance from the protected animal." Ten states in the U.S. allow animal companions to be included in orders of protection: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont. Find out more information about your state by visiting

Perpetrators of violent crime including Domestic Violence or Animal Cruelty may be incarcerated or ordered to complete a mental health evaluation and complete anger management or other recommended treatment. Anger management isn't always appropriate because domestic violence isn't really about angerĂ¢€”it's more about control.

Animal Assisted Therapy (also referred to as "AAT") can be very effective treatment or complementary treatment for both perpetrators and victims. AAT is unique therapy because of the fact that a therapy animal is present and actually plays a therapeutic role during sessions. AAT addresses bullying, helps build empathy and compassion, improves conflict resolution and relationship skills, and heightens motivation and engagement in therapy.

Often, victims feel they cannot escape their situation. Feelings of shame, humiliation, hopelessness, denial, blame and fear take hold. There may be financial issues that prevent victims from fleeing. Victims also refuse to flee because they don't want to abandon a family pet who has been or may become a victim of the abuse. Not every city or town has the resources to assist animal victims but the number is growing. There are many websites and local and national organizations that publish resources for people and animals in crisis.

To find a shelter for you and your animal, visit American Humane and Ahimsa House online.

If there is a safe haven for you but you can't bring your animal, be aware that some animal shelters will temporarily house animal victims. For instance, Colorado's Denver Dumb Friends League has a temporary Pet Assistance Program for people who need to protect their animals from violence in the home. A Pet Support Program in Maryland "will offer victims immediate alternative housing for their companion pet(s), providing victims the peace of mind needed to seek their own safety... and will organize a foster care network to shelter large pets, such as horses and livestock, which are just as susceptible to abuse." They can be reached by calling 410.222.8900. Find animal shelters in your area that can assist during a crisis by visiting
The Humane Society of the United States online.

With these resources at your fingertips you can really make a difference for victims of abuse - human and animal. If, in good faith, you suspect that an animal is being harmed consider calling your local humane society and requesting a "welfare check" for the animal. Not only will they go into the home to ensure the animal's safety, but if other abuse is suspected they may be required to contact local authorities. Providing direct access to local resources may empower a victim to take advantage of the support available - especially when a beloved animal's life is at risk.
Read original story in American Dog Magazine at:

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