May is National Pet Month. The statistics supporting the positive effects of pets on people are too numerous to list. There are so many reasons pets better our lives and help those in need. Service dogs are in abundance. Dogs assist the blind in seeing. Dogs (and other pets) enable veterans to live with the affects of PTSD. The list of mental, physical and emotional assistance pets provide in service to us, humans, is long.

The 2017-18 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that 68 percent of US households (85 million families) own pets. We, here in Teton Valley, know as well as anyone how important our pets are to us; I suspect, more than 68 percent of households in Teton Valley own pets. Our pets unconditionally love us. They are happy to greet us with a wagging tale, a purring rub on the leg or a chirp to say “hello” when we return home each day.

Mental Health American cites that 98 percent of pet owners in the US consider their pet to be a member of their family. But what happens when your four legged “family member” is caught in the web of domestic violence and abuse? Pets are often the silent victims of domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that 71 percent of pet owning women entering shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims.

Safe Place for Pets reports up to 65 percent of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusive partners because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. This means that 65 percent of domestic violence victims ready to leave their abusive relationship stay in it, and risk their lives, to protect their pets.

Roughly 5 percent of the women’s shelters across the country allow pets. This is a very small number. NCADV reports that 52 percent of victims in shelters leave their pets with perpetrators. These beloved family members may face torture or even death at the hands of the abuser.

Here is some good news: Family Safety Network allows pets in our emergency shelter and transitional home. Family Safety Network also has local boarding facilities that will offer their services (through FSN) to help members of our Teton Valley community fleeing violence to keep their pet safe.

Victims of domestic violence able to keep their pets with them, have one less stressor in an already stressful and life threatening situation, knowing their pet is safe with them. Victims can also benefit from the positive effects pets have on us: decreased stress, lowering of blood pressure, easing of pain, improved mood, reduction in feelings of loneliness, to name just a few. These animal companions are not only a part of the family, they are a vital support, providing unconditional love without judgement.

And there’s more good news. More and more shelters nationally are working to find “pet friendly” options, grants are available for free boarding and veterinary services, and the awareness of the affects domestic violence has on pets and victims is being researched and better understood. Currently 29 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws with provisions that allow pets to be included in personal protection orders. 7 states have laws in place that define animal abuse as an act of domestic violence.

Our hope, at Family Safety Network, is that, in time, no victim of domestic violence will have to choose between their safety and the safety of their pet.

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