Shelby Humane established Shelby SafePet in recognition of the bond between people and their pets, and how that bond can be manipulated in an abusive relationship. Family pets are often injured or threatened in a home where this occurs. Shelby SafePet provides a way for victims of domestic violence to seek assistance from an emergency sheltering organization, family or friend – confident that her pet will receive free veterinary care and boarding until they can be reunited.
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Shelby SafePet requires a network of referring organizations in every Alabama county, followed by a network of veterinarians and volunteers to care for animals while women and children find the support they need. This will all be done at no cost to families, for however long it takes until they are reunited with their pets. The key services provided by Shelby SafePet include:
- A 24-hour statewide crisis line offering crisis intervention and guidance to victims and their representatives concerned about pets in domestic violence
- Emergency shelter for animals of any kind while their owners reach safety from domestic violence
- Veterinary care for pets with injuries and other health conditions due to the abuse, as well as preventive veterinary care and spay/neuter for animals staying in our emergency shelter program
- Forensic veterinary examinations to document abuse and assist in prosecuting abusers
- Assistance in transporting pets to accompany their owners to safety (both within Alabama and across the country)
- Pet food, pet supplies, payment of pet deposits in transitional housing, and other assistance victims may need in order to move forward with their lives together with their pets after reaching safety
- Folding crates and other pet supplies for domestic violence shelters, including shelters that have their own on-site housing for pets
Shelby Humane recognizes the safety risks to both humans and animals in a home where domestic violence is present. Domestic violence can occur anywhere; it crosses all races, all cultures and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Alabama experienced approximately 25 homicides resulting from domestic violence in each of the last three years. These statistics support the relationship between humans and animals at risk:
- Most households have pets that are often considered part of the family. Many abusers use this bond to control, intimidate, and retaliate against their victims.
- Up to 71% of victims entering domestic violence shelters report that their abusers threatened, injured, or killed the family pets. Research indicates that pet abuse may be a red flag for increased severity of domestic violence.
- Abusers often threaten to harm pets if a victim flees. Threats toward a pet have also been used as effective ways to silence children from reporting sexual abuse.
- Nearly half of all victims of domestic violence entering shelters report that they delayed seeking safety from an abusive situation because of concerns about what would happen to their pets.
- According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s directory of domestic violence programs, fewer than 1 in 8 domestic violence shelters is able to accommodate victims’ pets.
- Victims who leave pets behind have been known to leave domestic violence shelters and return to the residence in order to attempt to reclaim or care for the pets.
- Children who witness pet abuse may go on to engage in animal cruelty themselves. In addition, animal cruelty in childhood is a risk factor for interpersonal violence.
- Alabama is one of only twelve states that require veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse to law enforcement agencies. The FBI made animal cruelty a Group A felony with its own category in 2014 to help identify pet abusers before their behavior worsens, and to provide support for prosecutions when necessary.
Shelby SafePet will work closely with the 16 emergency sheltering organizations located throughout Alabama. The first step in the process involves a victim bringing their pet to a local veterinarian. Pets will be examined, necessary medical care provided, vaccinations updated, and free spay/neuter surgery offered. Food and boarding will be provided through a combination of veterinarians, professional boarding facilities, and foster families, with transportation generally provider trained volunteers. Confidentiality and safety will alway be the highest priority.
Our most sincere thanks to Myra Rasnick of Ahimsa House. Ahimsa House is dedicated to addressing the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty throughout the State of Georgia. They offer services and assistance to victims of domestic violence with pets, and work to raise awareness of this connection in communities throughout the state. Myra continues to offer advice, guidance, forms and other materials, at no cost. We also appreciate the advice and guidance from the staff at YWCA of Central Alabama and Safe House of Shelby County.