BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Domestic violence victims often remain in
abusive relationships to prevent their partner from harming or
killing their pets. The University at Buffalo Law School Women,
Children, and Social Justice Clinic's new project, Animal Shelter
Options for Domestic Violence Victims, is designed to remove this
barrier to safety for individuals and their pets.
With funding from Verizon and collaboration from the New York
State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), law school
faculty and students are working to provide individuals seeking
emergency shelter with resources to help protect their pets as well
as raise awareness about barriers escaping domestic violence faced
by victims who have animals. UB Professor Suzanne Tomkins, who
directs the clinic, explained "we know first hand from catastrophes
like Katrina that individuals will not seek safety if they have to
leave their pets behind. Our goal is to reduce a very real barrier
for abused individuals seeking safety by knowing their pets are
cared for and safe."
Data demonstrate the reality of the link between domestic
violence and pet abuse. Seventy-one percent of pet-owning women
entering shelters reported that their batterer had harmed killed or
threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control
victims. Likewise, between 25 and 40 percent of battered women with
pets feel helpless to escape abusive situations because they worry
about what will happen to their animals should they leave.
Other startling statistics: 100 percent of serial killers
started out by abusing animals; 52 percent of aggravated assaults
started out by abusing animals; 48 percent of rapists started out
by abusing animals; 46 percent of sexual murderers started out by
abusing animals; and 30 percent of pedophiles started out by
abusing animals. Although an increasing number of shelters have
added kennels or instituted animal foster care programs in an
effort to protect victims, their children, and their pets, more
needs to be done.
In October 2010, three regional seminars hosted by the DCJS'
Violence Against Women's Unit along with the American Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the New York State
Humane Association examined these issues and how they impacted New
York. Shortly afterward, DCJS started a survey seeking information
on existing relationships between domestic violence shelters and
animal shelters to provide emergency shelter for pets. The UB Law
School's Women, Children, and Social Justice Clinic was brought on
board to create a more formal survey, administer it to domestic
violence agencies and animal shelters across the state, and develop
This database, which is the first its kind in New York State, is
available online at http://law.buffalo.edu/familyviolence/petProject.asp.
Organized by county, it provides domestic violence victims,
domestic violence agencies, law enforcement and advocates with
information on programs that can either house victim's pets or
include direct referral systems to agencies that will accept a
victim's pets. The database also includes animal agencies that,
even if they don't yet have a direct partnership with a domestic
violence organization, will provide shelter for domestic violence
victim's pets. As Kim Oppelt, program specialist in the Violence
Against Women unit of DCJS, remarked "As we consider how to locally
address this nationwide dilemma, we are excited that the UB Law
School clinic is helping develop a New York database to ease this
very common problem facing domestic violence victims."
The clinic's work will have immediate, practical impact. For
example, a link will be made available in the "Domestic and Sexual
Violence" section on the Law Enforcement Suite of eJusticeNY to aid
officers in assisting victims of domestic violence at the scene.
With this new database, officers will have viable options for
victims and their pets at the time of the incident.
In addition to creating and implementing the database, the UB
Law School clinic is working closely with the surrounding counties
comprising Western New York to bring awareness to this project and
to demonstrate ways in which communities can provide temporary
shelter for pets. Clinic faculty and students will travel
throughout the region demonstrating the capabilities of the
database and to present on the laws associated with the protection
of pets of victims of domestic violence.
As UB law student Karalyn Rossi said, "This clinic project
allows me to work in two areas of law that excite me -- animal
rights and domestic violence. It is so rewarding to know that my
research is being applied directly to help victims with pets as
they seek shelter."