October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, and so I wanted to discuss a topic in honor of it.
For the most part, we all consider our pets to be members of our family. Pets offer us love, affection and comfort. When we’re sad, they offer us a shoulder to cry on and then give us a goofy smile to make us feel better. They are always there for us when we need them, and never let us forget about them. (Seriously, they never let us forget—Simon likes to whine loudly, Rosee does a shrieky bark, and Orion (the cat) just paws at my face or bites my hand until I finally give in.)
In my blog post from last week I touched upon the topics of pet abuse and neglect. For the most part, I mentioned these topics in the general sense, but they weren’t quite the main point of my argument and so today I want to discuss them a bit more specifically.
I know that in the world of animals when the topic of violence comes up it is usually about direct abuse towards animals. We hear about dog fighting, animals being neglected or hurt by their owners, and even the sexual assault of animals. You could probably even find examples of abuse and neglect in your own community. I know that I’ve seen a number of dogs just left out in the backyards for most of their lives. It’s a sad situation, especially in my eyes because I love having Simon and Rosee as part of my everyday life. I like having them underfoot, following me around while I work in the house, and lying in the kitchen watching me make dinner.
However, today I want to focus on a more specific type of abuse that can (and does) affect pets: domestic violence. Given how many households are reported to have pets these days it is crazy to think that domestic violence doesn’t also affect them. Yet, we never really hear about what happens to pets in situations of domestic violence. Are they surrendered to shelters? Do they stay with the abusers? Do they go with the victims? Are victims even able to take their pets with them wherever they end up? Are pets even thought about at all?
In the grand scheme of things, pets may not be the highest priority in situations of domestic violence. I get it. The spouses/significant others, and (possible) children are the most important. They are the ones in immediate danger, and so should be the main priority. On the other hand, the following information from the American Humane Association is pretty alarming.
According to the American Humane Association 71% of women who owned pets reported when they entered shelters that their abuser “injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims;”
“Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry what will happen to their pets…should they leave.”
“Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble.”
Pets are often caught in the cross hairs in domestic violence situations. Unfortunately, they are also often forgotten about in public discussions of the problem of domestic violence. Personally, I worked with several women’s organizations that provided resources to women escaping abusive relationships and not once did the topic of family pets ever come up. Yet, with so many households that have pets these days it’s unreasonable to think that pets remain untouched by this problem.
I know that it can be difficult for domestic violence shelters to allow survivors to bring their pets with them. Typically shelters have limited space, and are meant only to be a temporary situation for residents. There’s not enough room for residents’ pets or perhaps there’s too much risk with allowing animals in the shelters. Other residents may be scared of another’s pets, the pets may become behaviorally unpredictable in a new and rambunctious environment, or maybe these pets act out in trying to protect their families and are therefore unsafe to have in shelters. Of course, this is just conjecture because really most pets would probably be just fine. Nevertheless, it could simply be that shelters do not allow pets because they just do not take them into consideration. It just seems unfair to make people choose between going to a safe place or staying in an unsafe one because they are unable to bring their pets with them.
Luckily, some organizations have recognized the importance of a family’s pets and have created shelters that allow residents to bring their pets with them. I recently came across a news story entitled No Dog Left Behind, and it profiles a report that was done on a domestic violence shelter in New York that is pet friendly. The report concludes that victims of domestic violence are more likely to leave abusive situations if they can bring their pets with them. I can’t say I’m surprised by this report and the acceptance of this type of shelter-model. Pets are family too, and in difficult times they often provide a significant source of emotional support. Here’s to hoping that more shelters take advantage of the findings this shelter in New York found when it comes to helping victims escape abusive situations.
Similarly, it’s important to think about also including pets within the parameters of a restraining order. About a year ago I came across a news story (it was on one of those pet websites, but sadly I don’t remember which one) that was reporting on one city that opened up restraining orders to include pets in situations of domestic violence. It was an important step in helping victims protect all of their loved ones as well as provide more incentive for them to leave their abusive environments.
Hopefully, this post provided some food for thought. As I said before, I never thought about how pets are affected by domestic violence, but it’s obvious that this issue touches more than just us humans. Pets are family too after all.
When Simon was a little guy my family bought him a dog house. It was a really, really nice house. Made out of wood, raised off of the ground, two little windows you could prop open, and a nice large opening that he could grow into. The thing literally looked like a mini house. Did he love it? Sure, he loved to tear it apart. By the time Rosee moved in she loved to tear it apart too. The two made quite a formidable pair in the beginning. Soon enough the house was nothing but torn shingles and chewed up edges. It was basically a hazard for humans and dogs to be around (splinters galore!), so it had to go. Losing this (beautiful) house was hard. Honestly, it wasn’t too much about the money. We had bought the house online when it was on sale and we had an extra coupon code, so it was cheaper, but it still cost a good amount of money. Also, Simon didn’t really use the house. Sure, he loved to hide away with his toys in it when he got tired of us humans (and later Rosee) trying to take said toys away from him, but he never really cared to sit in his house otherwise. No, what made throwing the remnants of dog house away was that it was a nice-looking house. However, what’s done is done.
Life goes on.
And igloos became in vogue.
Yes, it’s true. Sitting in my backyard are two, large igloos. Or more aptly named “Dogloos.” They each take up quite a few feet of space individually and act as the perfect things to run into. Seriously. I don’t think either igloo has ever been used properly as a dog house by either Simon or Rosee. Sure, Simon will run inside one every once in a while in order to hide his toy from a plundering Rosee, but for the most part the igloos serve as lovely patio decorations.
Now, the two igloos are slightly different from each other. The first one (i.e. the one we picked up first) is a light beige color and is curved rather like a snail shell. It is made by Petmate and is actually called “Indigo.” It has the main cabin part and then like a little hallway that sticks out and acts as an entrance too. It’s rather short, being only about 2 feet tall, is about 2 feet long, and about 3 feet wide. The house is by no means small, but Simon (who is about an inch taller than Rosee) still has to crouch down in order to get inside. The actual house part (the igloo) is slightly taller than the little entranceway/hallway, so Simon fits, he just has to do it gently. The house is made out of sturdy plastic and has withstood the past two years, and still looks good.
The second igloo my family got is an actual “Dogloo.” By now it is a slight dusty white color, and actually looks like a stereotypical igloo, it even has the indentations on the outside as if made out of tons of blocks of ice. It is about 3 feet tall, 3 feet long, and 3.5 feet wide. It is rather large and definitely takes up more space than the other dog house. However, it is not that heavy, so it is easy to move around the backyard patio. Again, this particular house has survived the past two years with being knocked into, chewed on, and so much more and it is still standing strong.
In fact both of these dog houses have turned out to be good additions to my family’s backyard. Both houses are made out of heavy-duty plastic. So, they are quite easy to clean. All it takes is a good hosing down and all of the dust and mud (from Simon) is washed away. Also, and probably most importantly, neither house retains any of the midday sweltering heat. California certainly gets hot, especially during the summer, and even though my backyard has a big canopy covering the main patio area it still stays quite warm. However, both dog houses stay cool and comfortable despite the humidity and sometimes suffocating heat. I would say that these particular types of houses have certainly been welcome flourishes to a dog-friendly backyard.
So, sturdy and long-lasting dog houses: check. Houses that Simon and Rosee will use: uncheck. Fact, Simon and Rosee still don’t really use their dog houses. Sure, Simon will run into on or the other when he has a squeaky toy to try and hide from Rosee, but Rosee refuses to put all four feet into either house. She’ll lean her little body as far in as she can, but still keep her two back legs firmly planted just outside the opening. Even when I try to nudge her inside, she abandons her task of taking the squeaky toy from Simon and runs away from me. It’s not that she’s scared of the houses or that she doesn’t like to go into things (she is crate-trained after all), she’s just adamant about not wanting to put her back feet into the houses. Oh well.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I bother keeping two large dog houses in the backyard if the only use they tend to get is as the occasional hiding spot. Truth is dog houses are good things. I’d like to believe that when I put them outside and am not looking they are putting the houses to good use. I’d like to think that when they’re older and want to spend some quality time with nature they will find the houses more appealing. And really, the houses don’t take up that much room even in my small-ish backyard and they are easy to move, so it makes them easier to deal with. Also, the two houses combined cost $25. Yes, that’s right. $25!
You see, the Petmate Indigo dog house previously belonged to a family friend. When said friend heard we had a dog (Simon) she offered to give us the house because her dog simply didn’t use it (sound familiar?) and she figured she’d get rid of it anyway. Dog house for free, yes please! The Dogloo house however, is the one that cost the aforementioned $25. My stepdad ended up driving by a family’s garage sale one weekend and happened upon this dog house for sale. By that time we had Rosee and figured two houses were better than one. Also, $25!
Anyone who has looked into purchasing a dog house from a pet store knows that these babies start at $80, and that’s a lot of money to be spending on something a dog might use some of the time. Prior to acquiring our dog houses my family had shopped around at the various pet stores to find the best deal, but it was hard to commit to $80, and at some stores it was closer to $120 because we needed the bigger house. It was especially difficult to commit to spending so much money because my family already had spent a good chunk of change on that first really nice dog house. (It had windows!) However, it seems in this case some unconventional “shopping” methods are what made the difference, and what a good one it was.
While I am happy to sing the praises and durability of both the Dogloo and Petmate Indigo dog houses (they really are great houses), they are more wallet-friendly ways to acquire such wonderful dog accessories. Talk to friends, scour garage sales, look online for used ones and I’m confident with a little leg work you will be able to find your best barker a nice outside abode. In fact, just this last week while out on a Sunday morning walk my group passed a yard sale and what did we find? A Dogloo.