Promoting the Importance of Keeping all Family Members Safe

When asked, “Who are your family members?” does your reply include your four-legged members as well? For many, pets are as much (if not more at times) a member of the family. Pets can bring a sense of security. Our pets are always there for us after a long day at the office and they are always there with an ear to listen to our thoughts. We understand that pets are family and if a family needs to seek safety, all members should be included.

According to the Humane Society of the United States “71% of pet owners who seek safety at domestic abuse shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured, maimed or killed family pets as a form of revenge or psychological torture.” And nearly 25% of women have reported staying in or returning to their abusive relationship because they are worried about their pet and their concerns are warranted.  Abusers will often threaten to harm pets as a means of maintaining power and control in the relationship which is why Wisconsin is one of 32 states that allow victims of domestic abuse to include pets in restraining orders.

Despite these statistics, currently less than 3%  of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to accommodate pets. At Harbor House, we realize that some members of your family may be a little furrier than others and we want to remove any barriers to accessing safe shelter. In 2013, Harbor House became the first domestic abuse shelter in the state of Wisconsin to be listed as a SAF-T Shelter, allowing all family members in crisis to find safety.

Many victims would not seek safety in our shelter if they were unable to bring their pet with them. Pet owners truly view their animals as part of the family and it is very important to recognize what the animals mean to our clients. We have had a lot of positive feedback regarding sheltering animals and clients genuinely appreciate our willingness to accommodate them”, said Carri Cappaert, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs House Manager.

With the launch of our Building Hope Campaign in 2016, we kept our furry family members in mind and included more spaces for pets in our expansion. Our dog shelter also includes a dog run area so that dogs can enjoy time outside with their families in a safe, secure green space. In addition to these designated spaces for pets, we are adding a number of pet-friendly bedrooms that allow families who might benefit from staying closer together to do so.

“The Building Hope campaign has allowed us to expand our offerings to pet owners. The new areas were designed with both the animal’s trauma in mind as well as their owner. The dog shelter has a large fenced in dog run to ensure that the animal gets plenty of exercise. Both the dog room and the cat room will be easy to clean which will benefit the pet owner as well as the pet”, stated Cappaert.

Our Building Hope campaign is set to be completed near the end of 2018. We are always looking for ways to be more trauma-informed for our clients. Our hope is that no woman or family has to choose between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring a pet’s safety.

“Having your animals with you adds so much to your recovery; it’s not something that can be measured in money. They are as valuable as the resources you get at Harbor House. The fact that I could cuddle with them gave me comfort – just touching your dogs is therapeutic in so many ways.” – Donna, former Harbor House resident

From Herald Times article about sheltering pets in northeast Wisconsin: