Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
28 July 1999 Issue

The Vicious Cycle of Domestic Violence
By Michelle Rivera, [email protected]

Victims of domestic violence are not always human. Companion animals, not necessarily in the direct line of fire, are frequent victims in the cycle of abuse as well. Believing that pets are sentient, it is easy to see why so many of them, once beloved and cherished, end up in animal shelters long before their loved ones check into battered women shelters. The confusion, neglect, abandonment and abuse all lead to enormous stress levels visited upon gentle animals.

Battered women shelter workers report that frequently, a woman will call during a few stolen moments when she can risk a phone call, and ask to come in to the shelter. Of course she can, but if she asks to bring her constant companion, her dog or cat, she is told that she cannot. She is left with a heartbreaking decision....should she leave and save herself and her children, but putting her pet in danger; or should she stay and protect the animal, putting herself and her children in more danger? These are tough questions, and humane societies around the country need to find a way to answer the call. Perhaps setting up a special fund, as one shelter in Florida did, and using the money to pay for boarding for animals of women forced into shelters. The women will have peace of mind knowing that their animals are, for the time being, safely away from a tormentor that frequently uses the threat of hurting that which she loves as a means of "getting even" with her. Consider the following facts:

Animals have feelings and emotions. Their nerves get frazzled, loyalties get misplaced. This can lead to aggressive and/or destructive behavior as well as skin and internal disorders. Psychological disorders such as loss of appetite, intermittent rage, lick sores, fouling of home quarters, excessive barking and howling are a result of mixed messages and inconsistent training. The animal is a target for abuse as his behavior deteriorates in response to the tension around him. Instead of understanding and patience, he is punished.

Isolation, routine interruption and loss of attention are caused by the victims' refocus on pressing family matters. The focus at this time is on the needs of the humans, not the animals. If the animals' caregiver is being abused, this filters down to the animal, The human victim is suffering from depression and the animal becomes a burden to a clinically depressed person.

Unfortunate animals are turned over to others, or worse, turned out because of undesirable behaviors or medical problems that are direct or proximate cause of the abuse. It becomes a vicious cycle.

The animal is more available to ALL family members to vent their frustrations upon as they try to cope with their miserable situations. The animal becomes the target of abuse by frustrated family members.

If a woman is battered by the husband, he may also be hitting the kids, kicking the dog and throwing the cat against the wall. Battered women's shelters can and do take care of the mother and child, humane societies need to find a way to care for the sad, confused companion animals that are the victims of domestic abuse. Private foster homes may also be an answer. Those wanting to help can call a local domestic violence shelter and offer their home as a "safe place" for an animal to stay should a woman need to go to a shelter. Domestic violence affects everyone, especially those who cannot talk about the pain.

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