I recently attended the BlogPaws pet and social media conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. When I saw the Bayer company at the conference, I thought to myself, 'well, that's interesting.' What could an aspirin manufacturer be doing at a pet and blogging conference?
I headed over to find out more at the Bayer section in the atrium where all the vendors were. For starters, it turns out that Bayer has been actively involved in animal health for over 50 years, manufacturing and developing products for both companion and farm animals. Their initiatives include calling for responsible, measured use of antibiotics in farm animals and protecting people and pets from Companion Animal Vector Borne Diseases (CVBD). The Bayer Animal Health division has also been committed to the problem of varroa mites in honey bee health, recognizing the vital importance of bees in pollination and, by extension, the general ecosystem.
At the Bayer booth, I also met and spoke with Lauren Dorsch, their Senior Manager of Communications, who explained that the company was principally at BlogPaws to help spread awareness about their national campaign, PAWS: share the story, in support of a bill recently introduced by Representative Katherine Clark (D, Massachusetts), called the Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS Act, for short). The legislation aims to amend the federal criminal code to broaden the definition of stalking to include the reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to a person’s pet. Additionally, it would expand interstate violations of a protection order to also cover pets. Lastly, it directs the Department of Agriculture to award grants for shelter, housing assistance, and support services for survivors of domestic violence with pets.
“Survivors of domestic violence should not have to choose between their safety and a beloved pet,” said Dorsch. “Once passed, the PAWS Act will help more domestic violence shelters save the lives of pets.”
Some estimates calculate that every minute, 20 men and women in the United States fall victim to domestic violence from their intimate partner. As might be expected in a male-driven society, much of this abuse is perpetrated against women, negatively affecting their physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and possibly increasing their vulnerability to HIV. Factors associated with an increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence include low education, violence between parents, childhood abuse, and the cultural prevalence of attitudes that normalize violence and gender inequality.
Despite the fact that multiple studies have found direct correlations between pet abuse and domestic violence, with abusers threatening to harm or kill pet animals, survivors of domestic violence are often hard put to find a safe place for their pets when they take the difficult step of choosing to enter a shelter. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, though safe havens for pets have grown nationally to 1,395; as much as 48% of battered women still delay leaving abusive situations out of concern for their pet’s safety. Animal cruelty, besides being an early indicator of future violent crime, establishes a pattern of seeking power and control through abuse of others. If animals in a home are abused or neglected, it’s often a warning sign that others in the household may be in danger.
- 4 million women a year are assaulted, beaten and otherwise abused by their intimate partners
- 1 million animals a year are abused due to domestic violence
- 71 percent of survivors with pets report that their animal was threatened, hurt or killed by their abuser
If expanding co-sheltering or safe havens for pets will increase the likelihood of domestic abuse survivors fleeing their abusive partners, then more needs to be done to ensure this becomes a priority for shelters. The issue is more complicated, however, as most shelters simply don't have the economic resources or the space to house companion animals. Additionally, there are a whole host of health and sanitation regulations that must be followed and implemented, which must also be taken into consideration. This is why the Department of Agriculture grants called for by the PAWS Act are so essential to the implementation of co-shelter initiatives for abuse survivors and their companion animals.
The Bayer Animal Health division put their money where their mouth is, through significant donations to Noah’s Animal House, a non-profit organization in Nevada that offers a full service pet boarding facility on the grounds of the Shade Tree Center, the largest women and children’s center in the state. In the nine years since its founding, Noah’s has has saved over 1,200 pets from abusive conditions, for over 90,000 boarding nights. Bayer’s funding came at a crucial juncture, a lifeline injection of cash just as Noah’s was opening a second location.
Bayer’s also donated to Rose Brooks in Kansas City, a shelter that not only protects adults, children, and pets, but also provides help and resources for thousands of families in the community. Finally, the Urban Resource Institute’s (URI) People and Animals Living Safely program (URIPALS) in New York City also benefited from Bayer’s generosity. URIPALS was launched in 2013, as the first program in New York to allow co-sheltering for pets and their humans.
As one of the largest providers of domestic violence shelters in NYC, URI not only operates three parks in two boroughs, but also has job training and counseling services for the families they help, which typically spend about six months at the shelters. After the first two years of URIPALS, URI conducted a study focusing on the ways in which abusers harm, threaten and leverage pets in order to control their victims. They found that the challenges faced by domestic violence survivors fleeing their abusers were compounded when pets were involved, emphasizing the importance of more programs providing co-sheltering.
"Shelters like Rose Brooks, Noah’s Animal House and Urban Resource Institute make it possible for them [abuse survivors] to heal in a safe place, without saying goodbye to their pets," explained Lauren Dorsch. "Bayer is honored and humbled to work alongside these organizations who are saving the lives of people and pets."
Pets should never keep people chained to their abusers, and that's why it's so important that initiatives like the PAWS act get as much publicity as possible. Nobody should ever have to choose between their life and their pet's. We encourage every citizen to get in touch with their senators and representative (phone calls to their district office are especially effective) and urge them to co-sponsor the Pet and Women Safety Act.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, here's a list of resources that may help:
SAF-T shelters - These shelters are equipped to take in families and their pets
Animal Welfare Institute - Their page on Animals and Family Violence has a host of great resources for pet owners, parents or family members of children who may have witnessed abuse, and child protection workers.
National Coalition on Domestic Violence - For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Women's Law - This site offers state-by-state legal information and resources for victims, as well as advice on how to leave an abusive situation, gather evidence of abuse, and prepare for court.
Vine.com - This site allows women to search for an offender in custody by name or identification number, then register to be alerted if the offender has been released or transferred, or has escaped.
Special thanks to Lauren Dorsch for her help with this story, and for motivating me to find out more about the PAWS Act.