October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It must also be understood that animals are intrinsically and intricately involved in this problem. Aside from being victims of violence themselves, pets are often used by the abuser to torment and control their victims.
Conversely the victims often cite the pets as an excuse not to leave a dangerous home. Both scenarios always end badly. Additionally, when children are involved and the pet is left behind - the children often think they will be abandoned next time.
Ancillary to this is the meteoric rise of incidents of elder abuse and the tragic outcomes involving seniors and their pets. Often, caring for a pet stimulates a confined senior citizen to be communicative and active. In other cases, the dependence of the pet on the senior strengthens the person's will to live. Threatening to harm the pet often "persuades" such a vulnerable person to accede to demands by their abuser that they ordinarily would not and certainly should not do. This is a vicious cycle of violence.
Incidents of domestic violence rise significantly during times of economic stress. Unemployment, substance abuse, fear, boredom, frustration and feelings of worthlessness often manifest themselves as anger against one’s family and/or self, specifically, as suicidal or homicidal acts. As holiday season approaches these feelings become particularly acute as pressures mount to buy presents and to feel happy.
Over a decade ago, spcaLA (not a chapter or part of any other SPCA) developed the Animal Safety Net program (ASN) which offers shelter and care to the pets of domestic violence victims at no cost, so they may flee a dangerous situation without fear for the safety of their animals. http://spcala.com/resources/asn.php This program has provided refuge to dogs, cat, rabbits, rats, horses and a fish. Additionally, ASN regularly helps victims of under reporting groups such as male victims of domestic violence, victims of same sex relationships, and members of certain cultural communities who use the existing cruelty towards, or fear of future cruelty to the pet as cover for getting help. In other words, those who would not report harm to themselves will report harm to their pets and seek to protect them. As a result – spcaLA’s program frequently aids these vulnerable but invisible victims. Indeed, spcaLA was instrumental in allowing pets to be added to restraining orders (only permitted in a few states) to further aid and secure our victims.
It is up to all of us to be vigilant and mindful of those more vulnerable and of those who can’t speak for themselves. If you know of someone in trouble who is afraid to leave his/her pet behind – encourage them to get help and share this ASN hot-line number 323 733 0219 or 888 527 7722. You could be saving the life of the humans and the pets. Carl Rowan said “It is often easier to be outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.” You could be saving the life of the humans and the pets.