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Leaving Pets Behind Adds to Trauma, Danger for People in Crisis
  • Posted January 29, 2024

Leaving Pets Behind Adds to Trauma, Danger for People in Crisis

Imagine being subjected to domestic violence in your home, wanting to escape -- but there's no place you can go that will accept a beloved pet.

That's the gut-wrenching situation facing too many victims of domestic abuse, according to a new data review spanning 27 years.

"In a lot of cases of domestic violence, there is evidence to suggest that people will delay leaving their relationship to protect their pet,"said study lead author Jasmine Montgomery, a PhD student at James Cook University in Townsland, Australia.

"This is often because there's a lack of shelters or housing places which can accommodate pets, or a lack of trust... that they won't be separated from their pet," she said in a university news release.

"In those cases where threats to pets are made, victims can be lured back by the perpetrator, which places significant risk to their safety as well," Montgomery noted. "Sadly, the review also confirmed that a common outcome for pets in cases of domestic violence was maltreatment and/or death."

The Australian authors noted that similar scenarios exist for people fleeing natural disasters or those who become homeless.

The new data review looked at information from 42 studies on the human-animal bond in the context of personal crises.

"Our results reveal the strong emotional attachment between people and animals may result in vulnerability for both in circumstances where this bond is threatened,"Montgomery said. "When people are being forced to separate in the context of a crisis situation, such as natural disaster, homelessness or domestic violence, it can result in psychological distress and the risk to their health, and well-being and safety are really impacted."

In many cases, people put themselves and their pets in peril when concerns over what to do with an animal cause them to delay fleeing their home -- even when natural disasters are imminent.

Too often, the welfare of animals is deemed a secondary consideration for local authorities, compared to human well-being, the researchers found.

There are also "disparities" when it comes to who (if anyone) is thought to be responsible for a pet's welfare, the team said.

"Often, it's expected people will choose human interests over animals at all costs, without consideration of the shared human-animal bond,"Montgomery said.

"What we need to start doing is taking our pets, and the value of our pets, very seriously," she said. "And, as a collective in the community, sharing that responsibility and placing the needs of pets in those areas of policy development, legislation, service provision and housing to help prevent unacceptable outcomes such as animal maltreatment or death."

Some of the researchers' recommendations:

  • Including questions about pets when people seek to access shelters or other domestic violence services, and allowing such housing to include victims, their children and their pets

  • Increasing collaboration between domestic violence shelters and nearby facilities that can help arrange care for animals

  • Upgrading natural disaster evacuation plans so that pets are included in transport and shelter planning

  • When homelessness strikes, ensuring that accommodations are pet-friendly

The study was published Jan. 29 in the journal Anthrozoös.

More information

The Purple Leash Project is working to help more U.S. domestic violence shelters include beloved pets.

SOURCE: Taylor & Francis Group, news release, Jan. 29, 2024

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