By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
With hundreds of millions of people required to stay indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, the media is reporting an alarming increase in domestic violence incidents the world over. This includes the United States where calls to help lines have jumped dramatically.
It is a problem we are tracking, out of concern for both the human victims of such violence as well as their companion animals who often end up as victims of suffering and horrific abuse themselves.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Clearly, this is a problem of enormous magnitude at any time, and one of particular urgency during a crisis when resources are scarce and victims, directed to stay at home, could be locked in with their abusers.
Domestic violence can all too easily impact pets trapped in such homes. We already know that abusers frequently exploit the emotional bond between victims and their pets, inflicting or threatening harm to animals as a way to control, frighten and punish their human victims.
Shelters are usually the only option for victims of domestic abuse, but most U.S. shelters do not admit companion animals. This often forces victims to remain in abusive situations, for fear of leaving their companion animals behind and in harm’s way.
That’s why the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Society of the United States fought for the passage of the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which was finally included in the 2018 Farm Bill. PAWS created a grants program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets or arrange for pet shelter.
We have since been working behind the scenes with our congressional and federal agency partners to increase the capacity of shelters throughout the United States that take in companion animals, and there is good news to report on this front. This week, the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime took steps to implement the grants program created by the PAWS Act, sending out a notice of available grant funds. The department will provide five awards of up to $400,000 dollars to increase the number of shelter beds and transitional housing options for victims of domestic violence and their companion animals. The awards will also help fund training for local stakeholders on the link between domestic violence and the abuse and neglect of companion animals. Shelters can apply for these awards until May 29th here.
But the pandemic has created an increased urgency to tackle this problem at a much faster rate than this grants program does, and we are exploring every angle to find solutions for both the people and the pets they love. We are working with federal agencies and members of Congress to ensure that additional systems and funding are put into place to aid victims during the coronavirus crisis.
Victims of domestic violence who have companion animals can also search for shelter locations in their area on RedRover's website, Safe Place for Pets and through the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens program. Red Rover, an organization we frequently partner with, has a grant program to help families with pets safely escape domestic violence together. The grants provide funding to help with the cost of temporary pet boarding while a client is in a domestic violence shelter.
Other resources on the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty are available at the National Link Coalition website.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, please consider the resources provided by the National Domestic Violence Hotline on staying safe during this crisis. You can also contact your local hotline directly at 1-800-799-7233(SAFE). The StrongHearts Native Helpline can be reached at 1−844-7NATIVE(62-8483) to aid American Indians and Alaska Natives in need of such services. It is important that at this extraordinary time, domestic violence victims with companion animals understand they are not alone.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.