When a person chooses to leave an abuser, it is not as simple as packing a suitcase. Many things are often left behind in order for a new life to begin. But should a family pet be included in what should stay or go?
As complicated as it is for victims to escape, and then to escape with children, many have pets that rely on them for care, or, that the victims themselves rely on: a pet that is simply loved deeply by the victim, or acts as support for a fearful victim, or one that children in the home have become dearly attached to.
The pet is part of the family when it comes to family violence. And since so many will not leave their pet with an abuser, they decide they also must stay.
Why? 71% of pet owners entering DV shelters report their abuser had threatened, injured or killed one or more family pets, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence - more on that statistic later. 87% of batterer-perpetrated incidents of pet abuse occur in the presence of their partner for the purpose of revenge or control. 40% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abuser because they're afraid of what will happen to their pet if they leave.
This is where a unique pet rescue organization called Ahimsa House will step in. Based in Atlanta, the agency aids domestic violence victims statewide by finding a safe place for their pets.
Ahimsa house is not a shelter, but operates a web of foster homes to keep pets out of harms way, according to Executive Director Myra Rasnick.
"Many shelters don't have on site accommodations for pets, and studies have shown that up to 60% of victims report that they delayed seeking safety for themselves out of concerns for their pets," said Rasnick. "We help to combat that barrier to safety by taking care of the pets for people."
If a foster can't be found, the group will find suitable boarding for the pet. Rasnick said they cover the pets for about 60 days.
The NCDAV shows many links between a domestic abuser and animals. Victims reports nearly twice as many cases of child abuse against batterers who abuse pets; abusers will sometimes harm pets in order to punish or retaliate against the victim, often for leaving; many domestic abusers have a history of animal abuse; and animal abusers are more likely to be domestic violence abusers.
Rasnick said because animals often are victims of domestic violence too, Ahimsa House offers veterinary care for pets as well, from basic and preventative care to immediate treatment. Referring to the statistic about pets being threatened, harmed or killed, Rasnick said, "We have seen that through our work as well. Many times the pets are injured by the abuser as well because the abuse happens to multiple members of the household, not just one, typically."
Working statewide, Rasnick said they had received calls for help in Northeast Georgia.
"We, last year, received 142 to our crisis line from the North Georgia area, and we helped 39 people escape with their 82 pets," said Rasnick. "We provided a total of 2,546 of safe shelter for those pets.
Rasnick pulled those statistics specifically for AccessWDUN's 10 county coverage area, which includes Hall, Gwinnett, Lumpkin and White, as well as other counties.
Once the 60 day stay is up, Rasnick said many of the people they work with then move into new, safer housing. "They have pet deposits that are ranging somewhere between $100 and we've seen up to $700 for pets, so we pay those pet deposits so people are able to reclaim their pets and take their pets with them to their new home."
The 501(c)(3) non-profit is always looking for volunteers. Rasnick said opportunities range from fostering a pet to transporting pets to event representatives to answering the hotline. More information on how to volunteer with the organization is here and ways to donate can be found here. https://ahimsahouse.org/
If you or anyone you know is struggling to leave a domestic violence situation out of fear for the family pets, call the Ahimsa House hotline: 404-452-6248
For domestic violence victims in the Gainesville-Hall County area needing a place to stay once their pet is taken care of, call the Gateway Domestic Violence Center Hotline: 770-536-5860
For domestic violence victims in other parts of North Georgia, find your nearest shelter at Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence or call the statewide hotline: 1-800-334-2836