Domestic violence and pet abuse

Numerous studies have documented the link between animal cruelty and other types of family violence. In fact, mistreating animals is often a predictor behavior or “red flag” that indicates that other members of the household may not be safe. 

The pets of domestic violence survivors are extremely vulnerable to cruelty and are often targeted by abusers as a means to maintain power and control. Abusers may hurt or even kill pets in order to intimidate and isolate their victim, prevent them from leaving, or coerce them into returning. 

When pet-owners seek to escape the cycle of abuse, they are faced with the challenge of finding shelter not only for themselves, but for their animals. Unfortunately, only 17% of U.S. domestic violence shelters are pet-friendly. As a result, more than half of domestic violence survivors in shelters report that they were ultimately forced to leave their pets behind with their abuser in order to get help for themselves.

Humane Society of the Ohio Valley – DV Project

Providing a safe space for the temporary care of owned pets

Your Role

Animal shelters can support domestic violence survivors and their pets in a variety of ways. 

  • Help a domestic violence shelter become pet-friendly
  • Create a temporary care program at your shelter
  • Incorporate family violence screening questions into your intake process


Collaboration is key! While we can provide some basic information to get you started, it’s important that you connect with domestic violence organizations in your area to learn more about your community’s unique needs. 

Check out our Training Handbook to learn more about the benefits of collaboration.

Support your local domestic violence shelter

Research and anecdotal evidence confirm the impact that animals can have on human wellness. Pets provide emotional support and a sense of stability and protection to their owners. For survivors of domestic violence, that care and comfort can be critical to the healing process. By partnering with your local domestic violence shelter, you can help pets and people find safety and heal together.

Encourage your local emergency shelter to consider welcoming pets and offer your support by providing:

  • Pet food and supplies 
  • Animal safety and handling training
  • Guidance on protocols (disease control, bite reporting)
  • Pet behavior help 
  • Sample pet resumes
  • Back-up housing for overflow or special needs pets

Does your shelter have access to veterinary services? Consider offering the following items for free or reduced cost: 

  • Vaccines
  • Antiparasitics
  • Microchips
  • Prescription pet food
  • Spay and neuter surgeries 
  • Basic wellness exams 
  • Dental care

Provide temporary care

Unfortunately, housing domestic violence survivors with their pets is not always possible. Domestic violence shelters may be unable to accommodate animals due to space limitations, restrictive insurance policies, or other barriers. In these situations, animal shelters can play a critical role by providing a safe space for pets to temporarily reside.

In Shelter

Offer your shelter as a safe landing spot for pets in crisis while their owners seek the services they need. Is space an issue? Don’t miss out on grant opportunities to renovate your shelter and create temporary housing spaces that serve your community. 

In Foster

Does your shelter have a foster program? Consider leveraging this network of volunteers to help care for pets in crisis. Foster care is a great way to provide owned pets with a safe and low-stress environment while they await reunification. 

Ask about family violence

Asking about family violence is an important step in connecting survivors with the services they need. Survivors of domestic violence may elect to surrender ownership of their pets in hopes of protecting them from abuse, and without knowing that there are other options available. Adding family violence screening questions to your intake process will provide important insight into the pet’s history and potentially divert an avoidable intake.

Consider adding one or more of these sample questions to your intake/surrender forms:

  • Has anyone ever harmed or threatened to harm your pet?
  • Has anyone ever prevented you from providing care to your pet?
  • Are you concerned about your pet’s safety? 
  • How do other members of your household treat this pet?
  • When you leave the house, do you feel your pet is safe at home? 

Remember, collaboration is key. Connect with your local domestic violence organization to  create a plan for how you’ll respond to situations of domestic abuse.

Ready to learn more?

Join us for a training workshop! You’ll learn from and connect with others interested in creating and sustaining pet programs designed to keep people and pets together.