Domestic violence isn’t just about the people involved. It’s also about our pets, also known as our “furry children” or “fur babies.” If you’re a survivor or victim of domestic abuse, you know that your pets can be one of the few things keeping you going. They offer unconditional love and support when you need it most, and they’re always there to lend a sympathetic ear (or paw). Unfortunately, though, your abuser may see your pet as another tool to control you—and they may use them to do just that. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re in an abusive situation and have pets. It’s important to try to plan ahead and make sure they’re safe too:
- Don’t put yourself at risk. Remember that your safety is always the most important thing—even if it means leaving your pets behind. If staying with your abuser is putting your life in danger, know that there are resources available to help you and your pet safely leave the situation and start over. Get them out of the house if possible. If you’re able to leave your abuser and find a safe place to stay, make sure to bring your pets with you. Unfortunately, many shelters don’t allow animals, which can make finding a safe place to go even more difficult. If you’re going to a shelter, find out if they allow pets. Some shelters do, but space is often limited so it’s important to call ahead and make arrangements. The ASPCA has a list of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters across the country. You can find it here: https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/pets-and-domestic-violence. If you’re able to find a friend or family member who is willing to take in both you and your pets, that’s ideal, but at least your pet. Otherwise, see if there are any animal shelters or rescue organizations in your area that can provide temporary housing for your pet until you’re able to get back on your feet.
- If leaving isn’t an option for you, there are ways to keep your pets safe at home. Keep them out of sight as much as possible, if not hidden completely. For example, you can create a “safe room” in your house where you can go if things get heated, especially if the abuser doesn’t use that room often. Make sure this room has everything your pet will need like food, water, and toys. You could also put up a sign on the door that says “Do Not Disturb” so your abuser knows which room to avoid — although, the abuser will most likely ignore your requests. For example, If your dog needs a walk, take it out the back door to not further agitate your abuser, if they happen to be near the front door. Let the pet sleep in or next to your bed at night so they’re not left alone in the house. If your abuser has threatened them before, it’s also a good idea to have a plan in place in case they try to hurt or take them away from you. This might mean having a friend or family member who can take them in on short notice or knowing where the nearest animal shelter is located.
- Remember that abusers often threaten or harm animals as a way to control their victims. If your abuser has threatened to hurt or kill your pet, take it seriously and get help from a professional who can assess the risk and assist you in making a safety plan for you and your pet. Pet abuse is now a felony in most states. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control number: (888) 426-4435. You can also take a Red Cross Pet First-Aid class online here: https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/classes/cat-and-dog-first-aid-online/a6R0V0000015EUf.html. It’s $25 and good to take regardless, but especially if the abuser might hurt the pet. The class lists that it’s only 35 minutes long.
- Watch for the following signs that indicate possible abuse:
- Tucked tail, flinching at human contact
- Unexplained fractures or limping
- Unprovoked aggression, whining, or whimpering
- Overly submissive (rolling onto back, tail tucked, urinating)
- Suddenly avoiding any physical contact and/or hiding
- Attempts to bite or scratch when petted or interacted with
- Changes in appearance, such as fur loss or dull texture, half-opened eyes
- Very thin/skinny or sickly looking
No one deserves to be abused—not even our animal companions. If you find yourself in an abusive situation and have pets, there are steps you can take to keep them safe while still ensuring your own safety as well. Getting out of the house if possible is always the best option, but if leaving isn’t an option for you right now, do your best to keep them hidden and safe until you’re able to get away from the abuse for good. And remember: no matter what, always put your safety first—your life is much more important than anything else (including keeping your pet). There are resources available to help; don’t hesitate to reach out for help when needed.