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Domestic Violence Hotline Survey Finds Pets are Critical Priority

Glenn Polyn//June 2, 2021//

Domestic Violence Hotline Survey Finds Pets are Critical Priority

Glenn Polyn //June 2, 2021//

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Press release: URI/The Hotline

The Urban Resource Institute (URI), the largest domestic violence residential service provider in the US, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline), the only national 24-hour domestic violence crisis line providing services via phone, chat, and text, announce the results of the largest nationwide survey of domestic violence survivors focused on the impact that pets have on a survivor’s ability to leave a dangerous situation. Findings include 97% of respondents reporting that keeping pets is an important factor in seeking shelter, and half of respondents would not consider shelter for themselves without their pet.

“Survivors consider many risk factors when deciding to leave an abusive situation and seek shelter. URI’s trauma-informed services, including co-living shelters for people and pets, are rooted in listening to the people we serve and breaking down barriers to their pursuit of safety and healing,” said Nathaniel M. Fields, Chief Executive Officer of Urban Resource Institute. “It is indisputable that the lack of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters remains a significant barrier, and URI has for 8 years worked to address this gap. Statistics on domestic violence have been stubbornly unchanged over the last 25 years, so we service providers, philanthropists, networks, and advocates must create change. Groundbreaking data collection like this survey informs the evolution of our programs and encourages further funding, support, and adoption of life-saving resources.”

“Domestic violence survivors know their situation best, which is why the data from this survey is so valuable. Survivors are sharing that their pets are important to them and that their pets are their family and support. As service providers, this is critical information so that we can be responsive to the needs of survivors and eliminate the barriers to accessing safety,” said Katie Ray-Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “One way we transfer power back to survivors is to increase resources where they can receive support to make the decisions that will keep them safe. Increasing the number and quality of service providers that serve people along with their pets, will give survivors more options that can keep them safe without them fearing what will happen to the pet they may have to leave behind.”

The “PALS Survey” was implemented as part of URI’s People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program. The findings are clear – fear for the welfare of pets is a barrier that keeps survivors from leaving abusive situations to find safety, which can lead to tragic consequences. Findings include:

  • 97% of respondents said that keeping their pets with them is an important factor in deciding whether or not to seek shelter.
  • 50% of respondents would not consider shelter for themselves if they could not take their pets with them.
  • 91% indicated that their pets’ emotional support and physical protection are significant in their ability to survive and heal.
  • 48% were worried that the abusive partner would harm or kill the pets; 37% reported that the abusive partner had already threatened to harm or kill pets; and 29% said pets had already been harmed or killed.
  • 30% said their children had witnessed or been aware of abuse or threats to a pet.
  • 76% of respondents reported noticeable changes in their pets’ behavior as a result of abuse.
  • 72% of respondents were not aware that some domestic violence shelters accept pets. (Currently, only about 250 shelters in the U.S. are pet-friendly and many others have foster care arrangements for pets.)

URI, a pioneer in providing safety and services for domestic violence survivors and their pets, partnered with The Hotline to conduct a 13-question survey to gather the most extensive and comprehensive national data available on how the consideration of pets affects domestic violence victims’ options and decision-making. The survey interviewed nearly 2,500 individuals across the United States who called, texted, or chatted online with The Hotline for support. The survey focused on how survivors felt about pets in relation to their experiences of abuse, their considerations when seeking safety for themselves and their pets, and their awareness of resources for survivors with pets needing to escape an abusive situation.

These results indicate and reinforce how pets are a crucial component of a survivor’s family unit that must be kept safe and together whenever possible. Lack of pet accommodations and services inhibits many domestic violence survivors from seeking shelter, which can have tragic results.

This is the first time The Hotline has conducted a survey about the impact of pets and is the most comprehensive and current survey of its kind. The Hotline/URI survey also reveals that despite a growing number of domestic violence shelters that accommodate pets (either on site or in partner animal services), survivors’ awareness of these programs remains low, creating additional risk to both people and animals. Equally important, pets are essential to healing, and separation from a beloved pet creates an additional trauma. Currently only about 250 shelters in the United States are pet-friendly, with a handful more offering foster care arrangements for pets. Among the less than 10% of domestic violence shelters that accommodate pets are the shelters of the URI People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program, which provide co-living apartments and comprehensive services for people with their pets.

The survey results were released as part of a larger report on the need and benefit of pet-friendly survivor services based on 8 years of experience, learning, and insights gained at URI PALS shelters. In the report, URI identifies the need for public-private partnerships to address the intersection of domestic violence and pets, and outlines immediate actions to better serve survivors, informed by the data, including:

  • Increase awareness of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters and services
  • Recognize the ongoing need for more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters
  • Enhance crisis training for hotline personnel nationwide on the issue of pets
  • Educate corporate and philanthropic supporters, legislatures, stakeholders, and the larger community on the link between domestic violence and pets to drive meaningful action

 The survey results were released at a virtual panel event convened by URI and co-presented with The Hotline. Panelists included experts from the domestic violence and animal welfare sectors, government officials, and a domestic violence survivor who together addressed breaking barriers to safety and healing for domestic violence survivors and pets.

Find the full report and survey data here.