Supporting domestic violence survivors and domestic violence shelters


Understanding signs of animal abuse linked to abusers, implementing protocols, and providing clients resources can help keep pets and their owners safe.



When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk as well.¹ There is a link between domestic violence and animal abuse because abusers often use pets as a manipulation tool to control others. According to research conducted by Frank Ascione, PhD, as many as 71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report their abuser injured, killed, or threatened family pets for revenge or psychological control.²

Nearly 50% of domestic violence survivors delay leaving an abuser because they are afraid of what might happen to their pet if they are unable to take them along.³ Compounding that issue is that just under 20% of domestic violence (DV) shelters are pet friendly, meaning a shelter can accept companion animals or pets, in addition to service and emotional support animals.

Pet housing programs can take many forms, including:

Onsite housing or co-sheltering: While each shelter renovation is unique, here are some of the typical components used in creating pet-friendly spaces include adding pet-friendly flooring, creating dog runs, constructing catios, adding doggy doors, installing privacy fencing, adding enrichment such as cat bridges, or obstacle courses for dogs. Onsite renovations can encompass:

  • In-room individual units
  • Utilizing existing space (such as a storage room or garage)
  • Adding a new shed or building

Offsite housing: Not all shelters may be able to include pet housing for a variety of reasons (landlord restrictions, limited space, etc.). In these cases, shelters might look to partnering with an animal organization or foster organization, boarding facility, or even a veterinary clinic.

Lives on both ends of the leash can be saved with the availability of more pet housing programs at DV shelters.

As a veterinary professional, you may wonder, why should I get involved?

  • Animals are used as tools
  • You will likely interact with domestic violence survivors and their pets
  • You are uniquely positioned to support survivors
  • You can build a bridge to a better engagement
  • You’re an animal expert

Sadly, veterinary professionals may have already seen signs of animal abuse in their veterinary clinic. Neglect or harm animals by an abuser may present in the following ways:

  • The pet’s history, as presented by the client, is inconsistent with the nature of the injuries, or no explanation is offered for the injury
  • Family members present changing or discrepant histories
  • Client repeatedly fails to follow-up on the treatment of serious medical conditions
  • There is an unexplained delay in seeking medical attention
  • A previous injury or death has occurred in another animal in the same household or owner
  • Injuries presenting at different stages of healing, repetitive injuries
  • The tenant/neighbor/stranger may often be blamed
  • Owners may self-treat injuries to pets when unrelated to financial hardship

The most important step you should take is connecting with your local DV organization to get training on how to identify, appropriately ask about, and respond to DV survivors. Remember, you don’t have to be an “expert,” but it is essential to connect with those experts in your community.

How do you respond to suspected domestic violence?

Additional resources


If you suspect abuse, you can ask further questions:

  • Are there safety concerns at home?
  • Are there obstacles in providing care for the pet?
  • What are all family members’ relationships with the pet?

Responding with empathy, care, and resources can help not only the pet, but the family member as well. We recommend being proactive in your practice and creating an action plan by setting up “code words” to alert staff of the situation, hanging DV awareness resource flyers in restrooms, and having a list of resources available.

Here are a few ways that you can support your local domestic violence shelter:

  • Research the resources for survivors in your area.
  • Contact your local DV shelter and start a conversation about how you can support them.
  • Provide initial veterinary exams and basic pet medications.
  • Assist survivors’ pets with more complex veterinary needs financially.
  • Support local efforts by hosting donation drives or “round up” fundraisers: You can host pet food and supply drives if your local DV shelter is already pet friendly.
  • Share resources:
    • If the local DV shelter is not pet friendly, please tell them about our “Don't Forget the Pets” collaborative project with Greater Good Charities’ Rescue Rebuild. This program provides free workshops that teach shelters step-by-step how to become pet friendly, how to fundraise to sustain the program, and offers a one-on-one coaching program.
    • RedRover also offers Safe Housing and Purple Leash Project grants of up to $60,000 (funded by Purina) to shelters so they can create pet-friendly spaces.
  • What is good for the community is good for business: You’ll be viewed as someone who cares about not only animals, but the people who love them who are experiencing a crisis.

It may take some time to make these connections and build relationships and create protocols. However, in the end it will be worth the time and effort knowing more people and pets can escape abuse and find a safe haven.


  1. Arkow P. The Relationships Between Animal Abuse and Other Forms of Family Violence. 1996;12:29-34.
  2. Ascione FR, Wood DS, Weber CV. The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence: A National Survey of Shelters for Women who are Battered. Society & Animals. 1997;5(3):205-218. doi:
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