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Unleashing our Love: Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Pets

As the companion of an English Mastiff named Celery, I understand the special bond created between people and their furry friends, especially in times of struggle. For survivors of domestic violence and their pets, this bond is often one of survival.
Pets offer the unconditional support and love that survivors don’t receive from their abusive partner and studies reveal survivors often turn to their pets for comfort after episodes of abuse. Sometimes animals try to intervene during violent episodes, putting themselves at great risk of  being harmed, either directly or indirectly.

I work for W.O.M.A.N., Inc., an anti-domestic violence agency serving the San Francisco Bay Area community since 1978. Often, on our 24-hour domestic violence support line, we receive calls from survivors seeking support for their pets. When they are deciding whether or not to leave abusive situations, they are often worried about the safety of their animals.

In fact, studies have shown that potential harm to pets sometimes keeps survivors in abusive relationships longer because they cannot find a place to stay that accepts their beloved animals. The American Humane Society notes that up to 40% of survivors are unable to escape their abusive situations because they fear for their pet’s safety. Another study found that this was the case for one-fifth of the survivors interviewed. For low-income survivors, the inability to financially take care  of  pets also comes into play when deciding whether to leave a violent relationship.

For the past two years, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. has hosted an annual Doggie Walk. This event allows pets and people to come together to celebrate their shared bond and to raise awareness in the community about domestic violence and the distress it inflicts on survivors, including non-human family members such as dog and cat companions.

This year’s Doggie Walk, held on July 19, was dedicated to Claire Pierce Moreira, beloved W.O.M.A.N., Inc. volunteer, who passed away this past year. Claire loved her pets very much and always had a goal of helping domestic violence survivors. After her passing, Claire’s husband, Ricardo, donated $1,000 in her name to start a Pet Fund for Survivors. This fund helps cover the costs of away-hotels or kennel stays, veterinary costs, and pet food when survivors are attempting to leave abusive situations.

At this year’s Doggie Walk, Claire’s friends and family, along with our much-appreciated community of supporters, came out with their four-legged companions to honor Claire and her deep compassion for pets and domestic violence survivors. All attendees got the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company on a sunny day while learning about one another’s unique connections to pet abuse, domestic violence, and W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Our brochure, Safety Planning with Pets, was also distributed.

A few fun pet challenges, including “Longest Stay” and “Best Trick”, were thrown into the activities of the day so the dogs could have fun and make us all laugh and smile. This  year, we received donations and support from local businesses, including Jeffrey’s Natural Pet Foods, Noe Valley Pet Co., K9 Scrub Club, and Duboce Park Café. Of course, all the dogs especially enjoyed receiving donated treats throughout the event.

Throughout the month of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we began work on a Pet Animal Calendar, giving community members a chance to have their pets included in it. After receiving submissions from 30 community supporters, we had a tough time determining which furry friends to choose –  so we came up with a creative way to include everyone’s pets. The calendars are now available for purchase and proceeds from sales will fund the ongoing work of W.O.M.A.N., Inc.

To buy your own copy, please visit womaninc.org/PetCalendar.

When Claire died, we lost a marvelous woman who offered many gifts to survivors and our entire community. Though she is gone, we’re happy to know that her spirit lives on at W.O.M.A.N., Inc. through her Pet Fund for Survivors. If you’d like to donate to the fund, visit donatenow.networkforgood.org/WOMANINC and type “Pet Fund” in the field marked Special Purpose.

The issue of pets at risk in domestic violence situations is often overlooked in the field of animal rescue but the work we do is truly life-saving. We greatly appreciate every volunteer and every donation. Join us!

Mariya Taher was a volunteer at W.O.M.A.N., Inc. before taking up her current position as Community Liaison Manager. She writes articles on social issues concerning women for a variety of publications and is a part-time faculty member at San Francisco State University. Her family includes a seven-year-old English Mastiff name Celery.