An overlooked victim of domestic violence: Pets

Jame Jackson
Purina’s Purple Leash Project helps domestic violence survivors with pets escape to safe shelters. (Photo: Getty Images)
Purina’s Purple Leash Project helps domestic violence survivors with pets escape to safe shelters. (Photo: Getty Images)

One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some sort of domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. If that statistic is not staggering enough, a factor that gets vastly overlooked is the unnoticed party in domestic abuse situations: pets.

Many survivors, even when presented with opportunities to separate themselves from their abuser, become stuck between a rock and a hard place when deciding what options they have for their pet. Of those that have pets, 48 percent of victims stay in an abusive situation out of fear of what will happen to their cat or dog if they leave.

While others may argue that they should just take the pet with them if seeking a safe haven, the reality is that many domestic violence shelters are not pet-friendly or hospitable. Today, only 10 percent of domestic violence shelters accept pets.

“The bond between pets and their owners is unbreakable, but the lack of available options for domestic violence victims with pets to find safe, pet-friendly housing leave many with the unthinkable decision — endure abuse to stay with their beloved pet, or leave their pet behind,” Nina Leigh Krueger, president of Purina, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “This is a decision no pet owner should have to make, which is why RedRover and Purina have joined forces to introduce the Purple Leash Project, an effort to help domestic violence survivors with pets escape abuse and heal together by empowering more domestic violence shelters across the United States to become pet friendly.”

The road to offering more shelters that can house both people and pets — also known as co-sheltering — has been a long one despite recent progress in New York City. In 2013, the Urban Resource Institute created a New York City-based initiative called PALS, or People And Animals Living Safely, a first-of-its-kind co-living program to allow victims to bring their pets into the shelter.

Back in March, Council Member Stephen Levin proposed Introductions 1483 and 1484, the city’s latest attempt to open shelters that also accommodate pets. “Victims of domestic violence are going through enough hardship without having to worry about their pet,” explains Katy Hansen, the director of marketing and communications of Animal Care Centers of NYC, a non-profit organization that sources placement for homeless and abandoned pets. “If we can relieve some of that pressure by finding alternatives to surrender, then we will do everything possible.” In August, the ACCNYC took in over 2,000 animals, 326 of them being surrender prevention.

Today, URI has animal-friendly accommodations at six facilities throughout the five boroughs. “We work closely with Urban Resource Institute and their PALS program to help guide people to their services,” Hansen told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Although we cannot always provide ‘boarding’ within the shelter, we are often able to secure temporary foster for animals through our ACC foster program. This allows victims of domestic abuse to secure safe housing without having to surrender their pets to the animal shelter.”

Of course, ensuring that the proper procedures are in place to accommodate a pet can get costly, which is why Purina has already pledged more than $500,000 in grant funding through the Purple Leash Project to transform shelters into co-habitable spaces for both people and their pets. In an effort to have a national impact, the project offers grant money to any domestic violence shelter looking to become more pet-friendly, explains Krueger who notes that interested parties can apply for a Purple Leash Project Grant on their site.

However, there are other ways the community can get involved: through donation, staying informed through newsletters that promote resources for safe havens, and of course, helping to raise awareness about the lack of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters.

“Purina has been working for several years advocating at a federal level for more government support for domestic violence victims with pets,” said Krueger. And when in doubt, having tough conversations will at least inspire another person to take action, hopefully in their own community. Krueger added, "As the leader in the pet industry, and as pet owners ourselves, we feel a responsibility at Purina to step up and be advocates for all survivors of domestic abuse, including those with four paws."

To learn more about the Purple Leash Project, visit purpleleashproject.com.