Your Role

You can play many roles in supporting domestic violence survivors and their pets in your community. Including:

  • Gathering evidence of animal abuse for a legal case
  • Offering support and sharing resources with survivors
  • Raising awareness about the Link and local programs
  • Supporting your local domestic violence organizations


Collaboration is key! We’ll give you some basic information to get you started, but it’s important that you connect with local domestic violence organizations in your area to learn more about how you can support their efforts.

Learn more about the importance of collaboration in our training handbook.

Learn About the Issue

One of the first steps in helping survivors and their pets is to learn more about domestic violence and the link between human and animal violence.

Domestic Violence - Judgement and Barriers:

Survivors of domestic violence face an incredible amount of judgement based on the question, “Why don’t they just leave?” This is a complex issue and there are many reasons why a survivor may delay or not leave an abuser.

There’s a high likelihood that you will come into contact with a survivor and their pet, so it’s important that you understand the many barriers to safety for survivors including:

  • Unsupportive family and friends
  • Fear that homelessness may be their only option
  • Lack of financial means to support themselves, children and/or pets
  • Inconsistency of abuse

In addition, leaving an abuser may be the most dangerous time for the survivor.

Some survivors report that their abuser became violent only after they ended the relationship according to

Separating from, or threatening to separate from, were most often the precipitating events that led to the murder of wives by their husbands in one study.

Battered Women’s Support Services reported that 77% of domestic violence-related homicides occur upon separation and there is a 75% increase of violence for up to 2 years after leaving.

Check out the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s article, “Why do victims stay?” to learn more.

Domestic Violence and Pets:

Approximately 70% of survivors in shelters report that their abuser used a pet as a means of power and control and, in a recent study, 76% reported noticeable changes in their pets’ behavior as a result of abuse. In addition, survivors residing in homes with an abuser who has a history of pet abuse are at an increased risk of harm or injury.

What does this mean? Approximately 50% of survivors delay leaving an abuser if they can’t take their pet with them, and one study found that 25% of survivors returned to an abuser out of concern for their pet.

Not only does this create a barrier to safety for survivors and their pets, it also means that organizations are missing a valuable tool for healing: 91% of survivors shared that their pets play a significant role in their ability to survive and heal.

Learn more about the Link and the human-animal bond in our training handbook.

Know the Signs and How to Respond

Connecting with your local domestic violence organization is an important step in supporting survivors and pets in your community. We’ve provided some basic information below but they can provide more specific training to you and clinic staff on domestic violence and how to recognize the signs. In addition, work with them to create a plan for how you’ll respond when you do suspect domestic violence.

What to look for in patients:

Potential signs of abuse in your patients may include:

  • Inconsistency between nature of injuries and explanation of injuries
  • Changing explanations of injuries (perhaps by another family member who is present)
  • Unexplained delay in seeking medical attention or owner self-treating injuries (when unrelated to financial hardship)
  • Injuries presenting at different stages of healing, and/or repetitive injuries
  • Pet parent repeatedly fails to follow-up on the treatment of serious medical conditions
  • A previous injury or death has occurred in another animal in the same household, or belonging to the same owner
What to look for in pet parents:

The abuse of pets may be used as a means of power and control by the abuser. The abuser may:

  • Refuse to provide food or veterinary care for the pet
  • Threaten, harm or kill the pet
  • Teach and/or force children to watch pet abuse
  • Blame the survivor, children or the pet for the abuse
  • Deny ownership of pets to survivors
  • Prohibit the survivor from socializing with the pet (walks, dog park, etc)
  • Threaten to harm the pet if the survivor leaves and/or as a tool to make the survivor return

Download and share the “8 signs that may indicate an abusive relationship” infographic.

How to Respond

Some sample questions to ask if you suspect domestic violence:

  • What are family members’ attitudes toward the pet?
  • Is there an order of protection?
  • Do you have any safety concerns?
  • Are there any obstacles in providing care for the pet?

Sample responses:

  • “I believe you.”
  • “No one deserves to be hurt.”
  • “There are resources available.”

It’s important that you work with a domestic violence organization to create for a plan for how you’ll respond. This could include setting up “code words” for staff, creating a safe place for survivors to connect with resources, etc.

Visit and the Safe Havens Mapping Project to find pet programs throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Want to learn more about mandated reporting requirements?

The National Link Coalition offers general information about mandated reporting including a national directory of abuse investigative agencies.

In addition, the AVMA provides additional information regarding mandated reporting for veterinarians, including “abuse reporting requirements by state”.

Ways you can help

Support a local pet program by providing:

  • Wellness checks/basic exams
  • Vaccinations
  • Basic medications
  • Guidance on protocols like quarantine, medications to have on-site, basic well-being etc.
  • Facilitate connections to other animal related providers in your community (trainers or behaviorists, for example)

SPECIAL NOTE: setting up paperwork in the survivor’s name can help establish ownership of the pet.

Some additional ways to support a local pet program:

  • Host donation drives (monetary or supply) at your clinic
  • Run a “Round up” fundraiser at checkout to support local programs
  • Ask patrons to donate vaccines or medication at checkout
  • Create a “medical fund” to support veterinary needs beyond basic care
  • Spread awareness by posting the Purple Leash Project posters in your clinic/waiting room (survivor focused version) and office spaces (veterinarian focused version). You can also order RedRover’s free resource cards

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.