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Veterinary care aids domestic violence survivors in seeking help faster


Veterinary professionals are likely to encounter pets and owners affected by domestic violence at their clinic



Editor’s note: This article discusses domestic violence. If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit https://www.thehotline.org/.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that innovative partnerships involving the private sector, veterinarians, and community volunteers could benefit human and animal survivors of domestic violence significantly. The study also noted that although other studies demonstrated the links between animal abuse and domestic violence, most domestic violence shelters do not allow pets at their facility with the owner.1 Of all domestic violence shelters in the United States, only 17% have on-site pet programs.2

A survey conducted by the Urban Resource Institute and the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that 97% of participants report that keeping their pet safe is an important factor when they are looking for shelter, and half of them would not consider moving to a shelter if they could not bring their pet.3

“A significant percentage of survivors reported that concern for their pets’ welfare delayed their attempts to escape their abuser, keeping both human and animal survivors in continued danger,” investigators noted in the study.2 “In many reports, children were also witnesses and/or survivors, which is in turn linked to a higher risk of perpetrating animal cruelty themselves.”

From May 1, 2021, to June 1, 2024, the study documented and evaluated a novel partnership model of safekeeping programs for pets whose owners are survivors of domestic violence. Hill’s Pet Nutrition partnered with the YWCA Northeast Kansas’ Center for Safety and Empowerment in Topeka, Kansas, to create a temporary housing program that could provide survivors with short-notice, full-service care for their pets.

The program created procedures for identification, medical and behavioral needs, intake, and shelters of pets whose owners are survivors of domestic violence, and worked with a volunteer veterinary clinic. The program then evaluated pets and found these animals' homes with foster families in the area.1

Nineteen animals—13 dogs and 6 cats—belonging to 13 owners were referred to the program. Researchers placed 7 dogs and 1 cat in foster housing and 1 was admitted to a hospital for medical concerns. Five of the pets in the study were returned to their owners after a stay of about 5 and a half weeks and 2 animals were rehomed. The investigators indicated they hope the findings will help provide veterinary professionals with the resources they need to understand the challenges they could encounter, and how to assist pets and owners.

"At Hill's Pet Nutrition, we see this initiative as an example of how we live our purpose of creating a healthier and happier future for pets and the people who care about them,” said Karen Shenoy, DVM, US chief veterinary officer at Hill’s Pet Nutrition.1 “Knowing how prevalent this issue is, including in our own community, we felt a responsibility to help survivors and their pets stay together, while achieving safety. It's our hope that this program can serve as a model for similar programs to be established nationwide. Unfortunately, there's much work yet to be done in this space.”

There are multiple resources and companies out there working to help provide support, guidance, and veterinary care to pets and people in need. Frank R Ascione published the first comprehensive guide to help shelters provide care for pets in 2000. However, the guide, which is still a resource used today, has not been updated since its original publication.3 Other resources include the PetSafe Program at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana, the Crosstrails program at Crossroads Safehouse in Colorado, and the Animal Safehouse Program at Rancho Coastal Humane Society in California.2

To increase the amount of pet friend shelters in the United States, RedRover and Greater Charities are working together through the 25 by 2025 campaign. The campaign was launched in 2023 and works to increase the number of pet-friendly shelters in the United States to 25% by 2025.


  1. Pet care could help domestic violence survivors seek aid faster, new study finds. News release. American Veterinary Medical Association. March 8, 2024. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/pet-care-could-help-domestic-violence-survivors-seek-aid-faster-new-study-finds
  2. Domestic Violence & Pets. 25 by 2025. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://25by2025.org/domestic-violence-pets/
  3. Ascione F. Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://lucysproject.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Safe-Havens-for-Pets-Frank-R-Ascione.pdf
  4. McCafferty C. 25 by 2025 Campaign kicks off. dvm360. Published August 9, 2023. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.dvm360.com/view/25-by-2025-campaign-kicks-off
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