The statistics are daunting. In their lifetimes, approximately one in three women will be victims of domestic violence. And in those afflicted households with companion animals, pets often share in the violence and abuse. In fact, in a study of intentional animal abuse cases, 13 percent involved incidents of domestic violence.
Up to 85 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that a partner had threatened, injured or killed the family pet, according to a national study done in 1997. And here’s the thing: A lot of women don’t get to the door of a shelter precisely because they worry about the fate of a beloved animal. Faced with no place to house a pet safely, some victims chose to stay in the bad situation—subjecting themselves, sometimes their children, and their animals to further violence.
In early 2008, the American Humane Society launched a national initiative to promote the on-site housing of pets at shelters. Simple and brilliant: Not only does this provide a safe haven for the animal but helps keep a comforting friend nearby in a crisis.
The recent opening of Doorways for Women and Families’ safe shelter for pets marks the ninth such refuge for pets in the country and the first in Northern Virginia. Doorways is Arlington’s leading provider and advocate for victims of homelessness, violence and abuse. I can only hope the recognition of the human–companion animal bond, as well as the practical, holistic problem-solving of this idea continues to spread.