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From 3 July 2005 Issue

Be a Friend-In-Need
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

Last week a domestic violence caseworker called me on my cell phone to tell me that Christine (not her real name), a registered nurse, had been battered and hospitalized. She was going into a battered womens' shelter upon her release from the hospital, but was terrified that Kiva (not her real name either), her eight-year-old female Labrador retriever was in the house and at the mercy of the abuser. Could I take in the dog under my "Friends in Need" program? I sent out an e-mail to fifty willing, local volunteers and within minutes I had a safe house for Kiva, the lab. Those who could not take Kiva offered to pay for a day's boarding in a commercial kennel. These calls are not new to me, I get them all the time. So far, I have been able to help. But I wonder about the animals in other cities all over America. That's where you come in.

Consider these situations: In front of her horrified, little-girl eyes, a father fries his daughter's live pet goldfishes in a frying pan to frighten her into silence about sexual abuse, a puppy is nailed to a bedroom door to punish a woman who reported her abusive husband to the police; two cats are drowned in a backyard pool in retaliation for a wife leaving her husband after he held a gun to her head. Escaping from a domestic violence situation is a bittersweet victory, for if s/he gets out safely, a victim of domestic violence faces a very uncertain future.

When a woman goes into a battered women's shelter, she frequently brings her children with her, but she is not allowed to bring her companion animal. This has long been a source of frustration for domestic violence workers and the clients that they seek to serve. Studies show that 28% of the women who call battered women's shelter hotlines delay going into the shelter because they are reluctant to leave their animals at home, at risk for potential abuse. Stories abound of women and children who have been frightened into submission and silence after what they have seen become of family companion animals. The incidences mentioned above actually happened.

Companion animals frequently offer solace, comfort, and affection at a time when frightened women and children need them the most. This is not the time to separate them from their animals, causing their animals to face an also very uncertain future. We need animal-friendly battered women shelters, but until we see that, there is another way to help.

You can become involved by setting up a domestic violence project that seeks to put an end to domestic abuse where animals are concerned. The link between animal cruelty and domestic violence is clear and presents a valuable platform for animal-rights activists to encourage local police and prosecutors to become involved in animal abuse cases. We, as animal-rights activists, believe that prosecution of animal-cruelty cases is important simply because the life of an animal is precious and has worth, but the knowledge that those who abuse animals will go on to abuse people in most cases should help animal advocates make their cases to local prosecutors who may not always be of the mindset that animal cruelty should be punished simply because an animal was abused.

Those who want to get involved in helping victims of domestic violence, both animal and human, should approach their local animal rescue organizations and domestic violence agencies and offer their support and assistance. Programs need to be in place to provide a temporary safety net for companion animals while a victim of domestic abuse gets herself together and can find a more permanent solution.

There are programs that seek to provide a safe place for companion animals. The cooperation of local humane societies, rescue groups and animal-rights organizations with domestic violence agencies is critical to answer the call of animals at risk. What can you, as a concerned member of the community do, to help get these projects in place and available to women in need? There are several things:

Foster homes: Due to the nature of the shelter environment, animals who come into animal shelters are at risk for various illnesses because their stress levels are so high. When homeless animals come into a shelter, frequently shelter workers don't know what state their health is in and are very reluctant to have them come into contact with animals who are already part of somebody's family. Call your local humane society and offer to foster animals for this purpose if you can. Ask the shelters if they will provide a basic physical exam, including deworming and initial vaccinations, flea and tick treatment, so as to insure that the animal is not bringing anything communicable into your home. They may also provide dog crates and vertical cat cages for the foster parent as long as the foster parent is keeping animals. Ask if they will provide the food and toys as well. Ideally, foster homes should be set up throughout the county, that can be called upon in a moments notice to take an animal when his or her family is entering a domestic violence shelter.

Money: If you cannot provide a foster home, see about setting up a special fund and offer to help with fundraisers throughout the year that can be planned in conjunction with local domestic violence organizations. This money would be used for the purchase of dog and cat condos, toys, scratching posts, flea/tick prevention's, heartworm prevention, deworming medication and any other supplies that would be necessary to maintain this program. The money could also be used to pay commercial boarding kennels if no foster homes could be found. If you can, offer to form a grants committee and get to work finding grant money for these programs. There are numerous opportunities not only through animal-friendly organizations, but domestic violence foundations as well.

Donate Supplies: The supplies that would be needed for such a project are cat carriers, cat scratching posts, catnip, cat food, cat litter, litter boxes, vertical cat cages on wheels, cat beds, and toys. Also needed are: dog crates, airline crates, leashes and harnesses, dog chew toys (no rawhide), dog food, donations of Heartguard (tm) and Frontline (tm), dog beds, and dog treats.

Volunteer: Volunteers may be called upon from time to time to plan special fund raisers, events, strategies, education and outreach to the community, and any other related responsibilities that would help to facilitate a domestic violence project of this nature. Volunteers may be also called upon to act as speakers about the project, planners for a First Strike Conference, and transporters for animals that need rides to veterinarians, groomers, or foster homes. Special skills that are always appreciated in volunteers would be web mastering, artists, writers, and public speakers.

For those wanting to get involved in hands-on animal advocacy at a local level, this is certainly one of the most important services that can be provided to local animals and the families who desperately want to keep them safe. E-mail me for specific ideas and policies, including special considerations, publicity and veterinary involvement.

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