The Tangled Web of Animal and Spousal Abuse


There have been several high profile stories in the news in recent months about domestic violence involving pets. Project Runway’s Kenley Collins was arrested and accused of throwing a cat at her fiance. Joseph Petcka, 37, a former minor league baseball player and actor who once had a role in “Sex and the City,” beat his ex-girlfriend’s declawed cat Norman (pictured, left) to death. The list of offenders is nauseatingly long.

The fact is, animal cruelty or the threat thereof is the reason that up to 48% of women stay in abusive situations. The good news is, American Humane and other animals rights organizations are working to help women, children, and their pets to successfully leave abusive situations. The following was written by Allie Phillips, J.D., Director of Public Policy, American Humane Association:

A frequent concern victims of domestic violence have is, If I testify or if I dont go back to him, hell kill my pet. In fact, studies have shown that up to 48 percent of women delay leaving an abusive home out of fear that their pets will be harmed if left behind.(1) Providing a method for family pets to be safely housed with other family members works toward keeping families and communities safe.

Maintaining the Human-Animal Bond in Times of Crisis

In February 2008, American Humane launched the Pets and Womens Shelter (PAWS) Program specifically to maintain the human-animal bond between women, children and family pets all of whom face the trauma of losing their home, and their hope, and therefore need each other for comfort more than ever when they leave an abusive situation.

American Humane is distributing the PAWS Program Startup Guide, which covers all aspects of establishing on-site housing for pets, to domestic violence shelters. In an effort to make it as uncomplicated as possible for shelters to implement the program, the PAWS Program asks that the family members not the domestic violence shelter staff care for their own pets during their stay. Maintaining close contact with their pets also helps the victims and their families maintain a sense of normalcy and routine during a time of crisis. When families have lost nearly everything, sometimes walking the dog or brushing the cat can bring some much-needed comfort and peace of mind.

PAWS Program Startup Guide
American Humanes PAWS Program Startup Guide was reviewed by two national experts in The Link, two domestic violence shelters that house pets on-site, as well as two national domestic violence prevention organizations. The guide helps in determining whether a community needs a PAWS Program and provides shelters guidance on establishing one.

Contents of the guide include: advice on the types of pets to accept, options for housing animals on-site, how to address issues of noise and allergies, safety considerations, and how to handle stressed or abused pets through working relationships with local animal shelters. It also advises on seeking funding and publicity, establishing a relationship with a local veterinarian to obtain the types of services required, addressing the duration and cost (if any) for housing pets, recognizing the need for counseling for those who witnessed animal cruelty, addressing issues that may arise when a family leaves the shelter, and considering common legal issues that may arise (such as custody disputes, insurance and liability, licenses and special permits). The guide includes numerous sample forms that can be modified to accommodate any shelter.

Contact Us for Assistance
The PAWS Program Startup Guide is intended to be a helpful tool to encourage domestic violence shelters to consider housing their residents pets on-site. For a complimentary copy, or to receive free technical assistance in setting up a PAWS Program, please contact Allie Phillips at American Humanes Office of Public Policy at (703) 836-7387 or email American Humane also has $2,500 one-time start-up grants available for shelters that are screened and approved by American Humane.

To download the grant application and learn more about PAWS, please visit

(1) Ascione, F. R. (2007). Emerging research on animal risk as a risk factor for intimate partner violence. In K. Kendall-Tackett & S. Giacomoni (Eds.), Intimate partner violence (pp. 3-13-17). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

Women whose partners abuse their pets are at great risk for becoming victims of abuse themselves, as are their children. Without intervention the violence will only escalate. If you or someone you know is staying in an abusive situation for fear of violence against her pet(s), contact American Humane to learn how they can help both the people and the pets escape the cycle of violence.

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