Monday, October 29, 2001

Pets get shelter from abuse

Link between animal cruelty, domestic violence

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One man threw a dog against a brick wall and dared his estranged wife to touch it. Another took the children's gerbil and tried to stomp on it. And in a Lexington case that made headlines a few years ago, a man decapitated his partner's service dog in front of her.

        In all of those cases, the family members — not the animals — were the targets, authorities say.

        Prompted by cases such as these, as well as studies showing that domestic violence victims often delay leaving abusive relationships because of fear for their pets' safety, animal-rights and family-protection advocates increasingly are focusing on the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.

        “The perpetrator will say, "If you don't behave, if you tell this secret, I will injure your pet,'” said Georgejana Foltz, a counselor and victims advocate for the Women's Crisis Center serving Northern Kentucky. “It's another way of controlling the spouse or child.”

  • To donate to the Women's Crisis Center's Pet Protection Program, which serves eight Northern Kentucky counties, checks can be made out to:
  Women's Crisis Center, 835 Madison Ave., Covington, KY 41011.
  Specify that the gift is for the Pet Protection Program.
  Information: (859) 491-3335
  • To contribute to pet-protection efforts or programs at SPCA Cincinnati, serving Hamilton County, send donations to:
  SPCA Cincinnati, 3949 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45223.
  Information: (513) 541-6100
        Because few shelters for battered women are equipped to deal with pets, a growing number of communities — including several in the Tristate — are creating temporary havens for pets of domestic violence victims.

        Today, there are at least 100 pet protection programs nationwide, said Virginia M. Prevas, manager of the Humane Society of the United States' First Strike Campaign.

        It is dedicated to increasing awareness of the connection between animal cruelty and other violence.

        At women's shelters in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton County, workers now routinely ask potential clients whether they need pet protection. I

Crisis center shelters pets

        In Northern Kentucky, the Women's Crisis Center started an informal pet protection program 10 years ago, when a victims advocate persuaded animal lovers to temporarily house pets of battered women.

        “I was getting more and more people saying, "I need to go into shelter, but I can't leave my dog,'” said Becky Wood, a Women's Crisis Center counselor for Boone County.

        During the past two years, the crisis center has housed 38 pets — from cats and dogs to hamsters, gerbils, mice and one iguana.

Abusers may threaten pets

        Several recent studies have suggested the need for such programs.

        In 1995, Frank Ascione, a Utah State University psychology professor, interviewed a small sample of domestic violence victims seeking shelter in Utah and found that 71 percent of pet-owning victims said their abusers had threatened, hurt or killed family pets.

        Larger studies in 1997 and 2000 in the United States and Canada determined that more than 20 percent of domestic violence victims delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pets' safety.

        When Ms. Foltz joined the Women's Crisis Center staff about two years ago, the longtime animal-protection advocate increased the scope of the program by involving more veterinarians and other professionals, publicizing the pet protection service, and raising money for it.

        “Georgejana just took the idea and ran with it,” Mrs. Wood said. “She started by getting small contributions of $5 to $10 from people in her animal community. Now we have a $7,000 annual budget for pet protection.”

        At the Women's Crisis Center, pets are kept in foster homes, usually for 10 days or less.

        For security reasons, victims are not told who is caring for their pets, but they receive regular reports and photos of their animals.

        “When all this happened with my husband, I didn't know they had a program for pets,” said a former resident of a Northern Kentucky shelter.

        To protect the woman, who is in her 30s, she is not being identified.

        She said she initially delayed leaving an abusive household with her two small children because of fears of what might happen to the family cat.

        Although her husband had never harmed the feline, he was im patient with her, and he had once bragged about throwing another cat against a wall when it ate some of his doughnuts, she said.

        “This program made my decision to leave a whole lot easier,” she said.

SPCA houses pets in crisis

        Three years ago, Hamilton County organizations such as the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter also began referring women to SPCA Cincinnati when they needed temporary shelter for pets.

        “For the most part, the animals are sheltered at the SPCA,” said Harold Dates, general manager of SPCA Cincinnati. “When we run out of room, or it's a larger animal that we don't have cage space for, we'll seek an alternate location. We work closely with vets from the Cincinnati Veterinary Medical Association.”

        Mr. Dates is among a group of local officials, including police, prosecutors and the YWCA, who meet bimonthly to discuss ways to better protect those at risk, including pets.

        “If someone says, "I can't leave home because of my pet,' we offer a respite from that for as long as possible,” Mr. Dates said. “We also do our best to find temporary placements for animals in cases where an older person has to go into the hospital.”

        Often, SPCA officials will respond to a domestic violence call with police to remove an animal from a home, Mr. Dates said.

        “People have to be able to solve their problems,” he said. “If a pet is in the way of that, it's not easily done.”


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