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Abused Women Often Delay Leaving Due To Their Pets

September 26, 2013
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April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Women with abusive partners have a hard time deciding to leave, particularly when the abuser is using a beloved pet as part of a campaign of control. A new study from the University of Illinois, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, suggests that veterinarians and women’s shelters can make it easier for such women.

One woman in the study said that her abuser “made me stand there and…watch [him kill my cat]. And he was like: That could happen to you.”

Jennifer Hardesty, a U of I associate professor of human development and family studies, said, “These incidences are very symbolic of what the abuser is capable of doing. He’s sending the message: I can do something just as severe to hurt you.”

Hardesty interviewed 19 abused women for the study. She focused on their decisions on what to do with their pets when they were seeking help from a shelter. Prior research found that 34 percent of abused women delayed leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. The abuser had threatened or harmed the animals in the past, Hardesty said.

“For abused women, a pet can be a treasured source of unconditional love and comfort—maybe even protection—in a time of transition. Many are strongly bonded to their animals,” she said.

Hardesty cautioned that not all abused women are bonded so strongly to their pets, nor do all abusers target pets in their attempts to control their partner.

Shelter personnel should ask women if they have pets in their homes, Hardesty says, and if they need help placing the animal or if something should be done to protect them.

“It would be ideal if the pet was able to stay with the woman at the shelter, but you’d need a reasonably well socialized and non-aggressive animal for that, and it would require a major shift in facilities and training for shelter personnel,” said Marcella Ridgway, a clinical associate professor in the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine.

Ridgeway said that the U of I program provides up to 30 days of care for the pets of women staying at two local shelters. Despite conventional wisdom about pets that have been exposed to violence, the veterinarians at U of I typically encounter animals with subtle indicators of a problem, such as having fallen behind on vaccinations or heartworm checks.

“Student volunteers care for the pets and arrange visits between the women and their pets. These students may have some knowledge of interpersonal violence, and they see this as a way to help. Some are able to see the animal come in and then witness the reunion at the end so it’s quite fulfilling for them,” said Cheryl Weber, student services coordinator and grief educator at U of I.

Hardesty made the following suggestions for the staff of domestic violence shelters:

• For women seeking shelter, have information on safe haven and emergency resources for pets available before they arrive at the shelter.

• Opportunities for the women to discuss their pets should be provided.

• Safety planning efforts should incorporate pets.

• Staff should be educated and trained about sensitive approaches to acknowledge that women have different bonds to their pets.

• Develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets in collaborative efforts with community partners.

According to Ridgeway, veterinary professionals should heed the following recommendations:

• Disseminate information about safe haven programs and emergency resources available in their location.

• Promote community awareness about the link between domestic violence and pet abuse.

• With clients who disclose domestic violence, be knowledgeable and nonjudgmental.

• Use a triaged approach to avoid overwhelming clients while addressing pet health care issues.

• Help clients develop rational long-term plans for pets.

• Develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets in collaborative efforts with community partners.

• Contribute to professional discussions about veterinary approaches to domestic violence.

“Programs like this one empower abused women. When a woman who has been victimized makes a decision to protect a beloved pet, she’s not a victim, and that’s important,” Hardesty said.


Source: April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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