Shelters team up to prevent abuse of animals, peopleBy Richard Robbins
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Action for Animals Humane Officer Elaine Gower explained the shelter has offered to take in the animals of abuse victims. In many instances, wives abused by husbands do nothing to escape their situation because of concern for the dogs, cats or other animals they may be leaving behind.
Not infrequently, abusers use family pets as a means of control -- threatening the animals with harm if the abused partner leaves the relationship, Gower said.
Dogs are the animals most frequently caught in the middle, she added.
"We've had dogs beaten and stabbed to death," Gower said.
Blackburn Center Executive Director Ann Emmerling confirmed the partnership with Action for Animals.
The fact that abused spouses and others stay put at home instead of moving out because of companion animals is "a problem," Emmerling said.
Violence against animals forms "part of the emotional abuse of victims," she added.
A 1997 survey by the Humane Society of the United States found that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering a human shelter discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family.
Gower, a former Blackburn counselor, recalled a letter addressed to the daughter of an abuse victim by her stepfather. "It read: 'I will kill the dog because your mother left me.'"
Gower said she would like to move the relationship with Blackburn from informal to formal. Blackburn officials seem open to the idea. Cathy Reeves, Blackburn program manager, said the nonprofit was looking forward to working with Gower on the matter.
Reeves praised the work performed by Action for Animals.
Except for terminally ill animals, Action for Animals puts no animals down, Gower said. Almost all animals are eventually adopted.
Working with the pets of human abuse victims can raise some hard choices, said shelter manager Luann Hutcheson.
These include what stand to take in the event the abused person returns to her abuser and wants to take her pet with her.
In the past, Gower said, most victims have been sensible, deciding to let the shelter have the animal for adoption.
Hutcheson advised pet-owning victims of domestic abuse to register their animals in their names with their veterinarian as well as to take out a municipal license for the animal in their name.
While humane officers have the legal authority to seize abused animals, Gower said, they need credible evidence of actual abuse to do so. More than once, she said, domestic abuse victims have told her, "I know he's going to hurt the animal."
"But that's not enough," Gower said.
Blackburn's Reeves said the center has no exact idea how large a role animal companions play in keeping battered women from seeking help. The reason? "We aren't asking the question," she said, adding counselors will soon start doing so on a regular basis.
For women who mentioned their pets of their own accord, the welfare of the animals was a "grave" concern, Reeves said.
Sometimes, there are happy endings in what is mostly an unhappy business.
Gower related how one woman, after leaving her husband, called the Action for Animals kennel from the Blackburn Center expressing concern about her pet -- a German shepherd -- which she had left behind with her "jerk husband." Would Gower check on its condition?
Gower said she went to the house, but neither saw nor heard the dog, nor encountered the husband. She asked the neighbors, who told her the dog had vanished some days earlier.
Three weeks later the woman, about to leave Blackburn, again asked for Gower's assistance. Gower said she told the woman there was nothing more she could do.
Taking up her own cause, the woman called her husband. Gower said the husband told his estranged wife that he had dragged the dog off to a local pound to be destroyed.
Distraught, the woman called Gower a third time.
"What does the dog look like?" Gower asked. "Maybe, it's not dead yet." Gower was a friend of the pound owner.
"The dog has one eye," the woman said.
"I think we have it at the shelter," said Gower, who just that day had brought a one-eyed German shepherd to the kennel from the pound.
The woman and her dog were soon reunited.