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Think of them as the Red Cross for animals, says Nicole Forsyth, President and CEO of RedRover. Since 1987, the nonprofit has helped animals in crisis situations. They set up five animal shelters during Hurricane Katrina and they rushed to the massive wildfires in Northern California to help pets displaced by the evacuations.
They also show up for pets caught in the middle of domestic violence, assisting with grants to help board animals and provide veterinary care when their persons are trapped with an abusive partner.
“One really powerful story that always gets me,” retells Forsyth, “is when I heard a survivor give a talk and she described the cycle of leaving her abuser and returning again. Then, they had an altercation. She had two small dogs who were hiding under the bed and shaking. When she saw them, that’s when she realized she had to leave, and leave for good, because of what it was doing to them. Animals are a reflection of what you’re going through.”
She got out alive, but others aren't as fortunate. One study revealed 48 percent of survivors delayed leaving an abuser out of fear for their pets’ safety. Studies also show up to 71 percent of survivors report an abuser also threatened, injured or killed their pets.
“Research shows [many] survivors won’t leave if they can’t bring their pets. It’s an obstacle I think that can be removed—this is totally solvable,” says Forsyth.
The Goal is to Make 25% of Domestic Violence Shelters Pet-Friendly by 2025
One survivor told DomesticShelters.org that her partner “liked how upset it made me” when he threatened to hurt or kill their dog. Forsyth says this isn’t rare.
“Many, many times the abuser is threatening the animal in order to stop the person from leaving. Often, the number one reason [survivors don’t leave] is the fear of what’s going to happen to their animal if they leave them behind.”
Survivor Alexis told RedRover there was no domestic shelter near her in 2004 that would take in her dogs, Ginger and Herman, when she fled her abuser.
“I’m still living with the shame and the guilt and the horror of the feelings I had on that moment in November 2004 … of having to escape and leave them behind in order to save myself from homicide. No one should have to make the painful decision, as I did, between their own safety and the safety of their animals.”
Still, today, only a small percentage of domestic violence shelters accept pets, says Forsyth. Domestic violence statistics show that an estimated one in three women and one in four men experience some form or domestic abuse in their lifetimes, but only 15 percent of domestic violence shelters accept pets.
That’s why RedRover offers grants to individual survivors for emergency boarding of their furry family members. They also help out with the cost of veterinary care. In 2020, RedRover helped 446 animals in domestic violence situations and provided 8,165 safe nights for pets.
But Forsyth says this is just a stop-gap. What they’d ultimately like to do is see at least 25% of domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly by 2025.
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“We give grants to shelters who are trying to create on-site facilities that welcome pets to keep survivors and pets together,” says Forsyth. That human-animal bond can help the healing process for the whole family.”
It is not just companion animals that are affected. Domestic violence shelters also run into the conundrum of survivors who have ranch animals, like horses and cows.
“These survivors are saying, if they leave, their abusers would not feed their horses, so that’s a huge challenge, too, and agreements with animal shelters that offer fostering for animals that can’t be housed on-site can be helpful.”
If you are a shelter interested in providing an on-site facility to house pets, please go here.
If you are a survivor in need of help boarding your pet or getting your pet veterinary care, please go here.
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