Humans aren’t the only survivors of domestic abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 71 percent of female pet-owners who sought shelter from abusive homes reported that their abuser had also hurt, maimed, killed, or threatened family animals.
That’s part of the reason why the Urban Resource Institute (URI), along with the Mayor’s Alliance for Animals, is launching a first-of-its-kind pilot program, People and Animals Living Safely, this weekend to provide co-shelters in New York City–both for survivors of domestic abuse and their pets.
“Abusers often target animals to show victims what they could do to people,” Jenny Coffey, social worker and founder of the Alliance’s initial domestic and animal abuse program, tells the Voice. “And that kind of threat–that abuse–it can turn into even killing the victim.”
New York is one of 25 states that extends protection orders to cover family animals, but that information is often unknown in domestic violence situations, says Nathaniel Fields, URI president. “Out of the 50 domestic violence shelters in New York City, none currently offer co-sheltering, until now,” he says.
In one 2004 study, nearly half of the domestic violence victims surveyed reported that they stayed in a dangerous situation longer because they feared for their animals and didn’t know where to take them. But the URI pilot will launch with 10 shelter apartments in Brooklyn, allowing survivors to bring along hamsters, birds, and fish–and in several months, Fields says the program’s hoping to open up to dogs.
On Thursday, URI announced it would be taking on a $250,000 fundraising goal to expand to three more shelters in the city.
Earlier this month, New York state legislators also introduced a bill that would encourage judges to allow traumatized witnesses–like survivors of sexual or domestic abuse–to keep dogs by their sides in court rooms, often when testifying in front of their abuser. “Rosie’s Law” would help comfort survivors who might not otherwise be able to testify under such circumstances, said state Senator Terry Gipson, one of the sponsors of the legislation.
“In crisis, you want all of your family members together,” Fields says. “If you’ve left your community behind and you’re in hiding, pets provide an enormous sense of comfort.”