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Kick My Dog - Kick Me

Pets Are Victims Of Domestic Abuse Too: Spread The Word.

You may not know it, but pets, like humans, can become victims of domestic abuse.

SAAV - Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims
Megan Senatori's much loved 'Mav'

In fact, the abuse of pets in violent homes is so common that studies have confirmed the “link” between pet abuse and domestic abuse. For example, a 1995 survey of 72 women seeking refuge in domestic abuse shelters in Wisconsin found that 86% of the women had pets and in 80% of those cases the batterer had abused the pets (See note 1).

Why would a batterer target a defenseless animal? At its core, domestic abuse is about the batterers exercise of power and control over the family. In most American households, pets are full-fledged Megan Senatori, Co-founder of SAAV members of their human families. However, unlike humans, pets obviously cannot report abuse and, as a result, batterers may more easily hide and get away with pet abuse. Batterers know this. They, therefore, routinely use pets as a tool of domination – to teach the human members of the family submission, to make the family keep secrets, to punish the victim and/or the children, to coerce the victim to stay, or to retaliate against the victim for leaving. The abuse of a family pet is also symbolic – brutality to the family pet serves as a vivid and horrifying “reminder” to the rest of the family of the consequences of failing to submit to the batterer’s demands.

Sadly, victims and children wishing to protect their pet from abuse often feel that they have no option other than to stay in a violent home. Because domestic abuse shelters typically do not allow pets, victims with pets face an undeniable reality:  Leaving the batterer may mean harm, or even death, to a beloved family member, their pet. Faced with this horror, studies confirm that many victims delay leaving or never leave in order to protect their pets from abuse. Three separate studies have documented that from 18% to 40% of victims seeking shelter at a crisis center reported that concern for the welfare of their pet prevented them from seeking shelter sooner, in some cases for more than two months (See note 2). The number of victims who never leave due to concern for the safety and well-being of a pet is immeasurable.

We did not want human victims of domestic abuse to ever to have to “choose” between their own safety and the certain death or abuse of their animal companion. The SAAV (“Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims”) Program is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) organization based in Dane County, Wisconsin, that provides emergency confidential foster care for pets of domestic abuse victims receiving services or shelter from our local domestic abuse organization. Through a network of foster parents, we provide homes to the pets of domestic abuse victims for a period of up to 90 days. The SAAV Program is possible due to generous collaboration with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services and the Dane County Humane Society, both also based in Dane County, Wisconsin.

Over the years, we have provided shelter for pets ranging from dogs to horses and even, to a little hamster named “Faith.” The ultimate goal of the SAAV Program is to reunite the families we serve in a safe environment after the foster period. However, due to the complex dynamics of abuse, sometimes a victim and her pet will return to the abusive household. Other times, a victim will decide to relinquish her pet for adoption at the end of the foster period. However, regardless of the end-result, the SAAV Program offers a valuable service by providing safety to human and animal victims of domestic abuse when they need it most. We have Faith to know that it makes all the difference.

Note 1: Arkow, P., “The Relationship Between Animal Abuse and Other Forms of Family Violence,” 12 Family Violence and Sexual Assault Bulletin 29 (1996). Studies nationwide bear out similarly.
Note 2: See Ascione, Frank R., “Safe Haven for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered,” page 1 (2000)

• Victims wishing to utilize The SAAV Program should contact the 24 hour crisis line at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services at: (800) 747-4045.

For information about the SAAV Program, or starting a safe havens for pets program in your community, please visit the SAAV Program online at www.saavprogram.org. By email: info@saavprogram.org. Or by mail at P.O. Box 5152, Madison, WI 53705.

Megan A. Senatori is an attorney at DeWitt Ross & Stevens, S.C., where she practices complex civil litigation and appeals. She is an adjunct professor of Animal Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School. In 2001, Megan, along with her friend and law school classmate Pamela Alexander, co-founded SAAV Program, Inc.

Megan A. Senatori
Litigation, DeWitt Ross & Stevens, S.C.

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