When abuse causes the breakup of a home, its not just the people who suffer. Leaving an abuser is difficult and dangerous, but with a pet it is even harder
There was a cat, the man at the shelter tells me, who was put in a microwave. The man was furious at his partner for leaving the house to run errands without his permission. Knowing she was half an hour away, he told her that if she did not return home within the next 10 minutes, he would put her beloved cat in the microwave. The feat was impossible and the resulting punishment and distress hard to imagine.
Leaving an abuser can be one of the most dangerous times for a victim. But if you have a pet, leaving is even harder. Almost half of abused victims will delay their departure if they cannot bring their animals.
And yet, few domestic abuse shelters around the US are able to accommodate pets. In New York City, the Urban Resource Institute (URI), which has been doing so since 2013, is the only one providing such a service in just a couple of its shelters. The need far exceeds services provided, staff say.
Shockingly, given that approximately 65% of American households have pets, URI say they have only identified seven other urban shelters across the US able to accommodate domestic violence survivors together with their animals.
A Pet and Women Safety Act (shortened to PAWS) is currently pending in Congress. If passed into federal law, the legislation, which implicitly links the two issues of pet abuse and domestic violence, would expand protections to pets and victims of domestic violence. It would also, crucially, expand funding for more comprehensively equipped domestic violence shelters.
The following are a few stories of humans and their pets that have recently come through URI doors. All names have been changed as requested for safety purposes.
Andrea and Buster (beagle and blue-nosed pit bull mix), with Twig the lizard (bearded dragon)
Andrea slowly recounts the events of the past few years. The tears come and go as she remembers the abuse, the extraordinary anguish and struggle as her family were effectively left homeless after her partner and abuser of two decades abruptly left them all. He stopped paying almost all bills, including rent.
Left on the street, having been kicked out of their apartment last November, were her two children, Alana, now 21, and Craig, now 14. With them were Buster, the family beagle and blue-nosed pit bull mix, and Twig, her sons bearded dragon lizard.