October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and pets are usually not thought of when talking about this topic.
There are about 1,200 safe havens for pets of survivors of domestic violence in the U.S.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 71% of victims of domestic violence living in shelters report their abuser threatened, harmed or killed their pet as a way to control them.
Nearly half of abuse victims stay in their situation because they don’t want to leave their pets behind.
“They feel like there’s nowhere that their pets can go with them, and so they feel that they’re forced to stay in an abusive situation in order to protect their pets,” said Tara Bjornson, the assistant director of the Dometic Violence Crisis Center.
Bjornson said threats toward pets usually escalate to violence toward them.
“It’s a very effective way to get compliance in a household because your pets are dependent on you and their family,” said Bjornson.
The DVCC in Minot offers a room that allows pets for people fleeing abusive situations.
If the room that allows pets is in use at the temporary housing, the pets are referred to the Souris Valley Animal Shelter.
Executive Director Shelbi Waters says that it’s safe to say that pets that come from abusive homes also struggle with these harmful situations.
“Pets coming in who have been in abusive situation where they have seen their owners essentially abused in a domestic situation, they come in with significant behavioral issues,” said Waters. “There’s never been a pet that has come in without those behavior issues.”
These pets are separated from the other animals in the shelter to make their environment less stressful.
The private rooms were funded with grants from Red Rover, an organization that aims to bring animals from crisis to care.
Waters said that the shelter is nationally recognized for its domestic violence program.
“We now mentor other facilities to replicate our program so we have mentored people in Hawaii, and in Arkansas, and in Michigan,” said Waters.
Waters said the goal is to reunite pets and their owners.
“Once they’re in our care, we provide for them medically, physically, anything that they might need and we house them until the owner or the survivor, is back on their feet,” said Waters.
Bjornson wants people to know they are not alone and to seek help if they’re experiencing abuse.
“If somebody is threatening your animal in a way to keep control of you, that’s not okay and there is, there are places for you to go,” said Bjornson. “Just give us a call, we’re here.”
A message for people and pet owners everywhere who may be struggling in silence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the DVCC at 701-852-2258.
For more information, head to their website.