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Domestic Violence: A Pandemic Within a Pandemic


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There’s a lot going on now to stress many Americans, and experts suggest that as a result domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) may be on the rise.

If this is true, abuse to animals may also be on the rise. Animal abuse in a home has long been considered a predictive factor of abuse to a partner or child.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine notes many communities aren’t experiencing an increase in hotline calls, in fact, in many places there’s a significant decrease. Experts in the field believe that rates of IPV have not decreased, but rather that victims have been unable to safely connect with services or trapped with their abuser and feel too intimidated to report. Journal of Medicine story calls it ‘A Pandemic within a Pandemic.’

Linking Animal Abuse to Domestic Violence

Phil Arkow coordinator of the National Link Coalition notes similar issues may occur with animal abuse in homes (as he mentions on an upcoming appearance on Steve Dale’s Pet World, national radio show to be posted here soon). There may be fewer reports of abuse, as often people don’t reveal why a pet was injured, but veterinarians figure it out. In many states, veterinarians are then mandated to report suspected abuse. But abuse can be difficult to discern via telehealth. Often people confide in veterinary professionals, but those reveals are far more likely to occur with in-person visits, which are now rare as pets are handed off in a parking lot or at the front door and examined without the owner in the exam room.

All studies point to a tsunami of abuse happening under the radar. Arguably, it’s not been since the great depression or Pearl Harbor that people have had as much to worry about, and there was no social media back then to accelerate anxiety. From the isolation of spending so much time at home, to dealing with home-schooling, to so many unemployed or partially employed and associated financial issues, to social unrest, to political drama and the fear of getting COVID-19 or dealing with family members or friends who are ill. That’s a lot!

Even under the best of circumstances, one in four women and one in 10 men experience IPV,

The public health restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the virus have also reduced access to alternative sources of housing: shelters and hotels have reduced their capacity or shut down, and travel restrictions have limited people’s access to safe havens. Shelters have made valiant efforts to ease crowding and to help residents, who are victim of abuse, to move into hotels, extended-stay apartments, or the homes of family members and friends. If there are pets involved, finding a place to stay is far more difficult. Though some restrictions have been lifted, many shelters remain closed or are operating at reduced capacity, which creates challenges for people who need alternative housing arrangements.

Celebrities and Purple Leash Project

Journalist and talk show host, Tamron Hall, and actress, Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), are lending their voices as advocates for the Purple Leash Project. Founded by Purina and nonprofit organization, RedRover, the national initiative aims to provide more resources and support for domestic violence survivors with pets.

While 70 percent of domestic violence survivors report their abuser threatened, injured, or killed a pet as a means of control, fewer than 10 percent of shelters in the U.S. allow pets. As such, nearly half of victims delay leaving their abuser in an effort to protect their pet from the inherent danger of being left behind, And right now, as mentioned, finding a pet-friendly safe haven may be even more challenging. 

Funds raised through the Purple Lease Project will go toward transforming shelters into pet-friendly spaces, allowing humans and animals to heal together, the company says. This is particularly important amidst the pandemic, as this period has seen an increase in domestic abuse incidents.

“The bond we share with our pets is unbreakable, but for women and men suffering from domestic violence, abusers will often use pets to threaten and manipulate their victims,” says Purina President, Nina Leigh Krueger. “That’s why it’s critical to pave a way for survivors to leave abuse with their pets in tow, to protect the bond they share and begin the healing process together.”

“The thought of survivors of domestic violence forced to leave pets behind because shelters are not equipped to take them in is a heartbreaking reality not talked about enough,” Hall says. “I’m proud to be partnering with the Purple Leash Project and lending my voice to increase awareness and help eradicate this issue. Together, we can help ease one of the many burdens that victims have to shoulder.”

“I can’t imagine having to face the dilemma of staying in a dangerous situation or leaving my dog, Elvis, in harm’s way,” Hale adds. “This is a heartbreaking situation for someone to be in, on top of the abuse they have already endured.”

Since its founding in 2019, the Purple Leash Project has raised nearly $1 million and dedicated more than 1,500 hours to renovating shelters nationwide.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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