ASPCA Grant Helps Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Pets Find Refuge Together

Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 10:45am
(Photo credit: Jordan H. Star)

It’s hard enough for survivors of domestic violence to navigate the complicated emotional and logistical terrain of leaving home for safe shelter—and adding pets into the equation makes these situations even more stressful. Some stay in abusive relationships to protect their beloved pets, while others have no choice but to leave them behind. Because animals often are used as pawns in domestic disputes, this heartbreaking choice can lead to tragedy.

New York’s Urban Resource Institute (URI),  a non-profit human services organization dedicated to helping New York’s most vulnerable populations, wants to solve this problem—and the ASPCA is stepping up to help.

We’re awarding a $75,000 grant to URI’s innovative PALS (People and Animals Living Safely) program, which enables clients at URI’s largest domestic violence shelter to bring pets with them. Since its launch in June 2013, the program has welcomed many cats; it began accepting dogs this month. This is New York City’s first-ever initiative to house survivors of domestic violence with their pets in a shelter setting.

(Photo credit: Jordan H. Star)

“We’re honored to participate in an innovative program that provides safe shelter for both domestic violence victims and their pets,” says ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker. “This program keeps people and pets together during times of crisis, protects them both, and preserves the special bond with a companion animal—often a major source of comfort and stability. We’d love to see it expand to other emergency shelters throughout the city and nationwide.”

In addition to the grant, the ASPCA will offer assistance via its Animal Hospital by providing services including medical exams, vaccinations, behavioral support, spay/neuter surgery and fostering. The ASPCA’s Cruelty Intervention Advocacy team will also provide support and offer critical resources to pet owners who find themselves and their animals in unstable situations.

Studies estimate that as many as 48% of victims of domestic violence remain in abusive situations for fear of what would happen if they left their pets behind, and that more than 70% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that abusers have threatened, harmed or killed a family pet. By working together, ASPCA and URI hope to increase awareness about the impact of abuse on every member of the family—including pets—and encourage increased partnership between animal welfare and domestic violence communities nationwide.

(Photo credit: Jordan H. Star)

This cat has been living at URI’s largest emergency shelter with its owner for the past several months as part of the URIPALS program.

All photos courtesy of Jordan H. Star. 

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Mary-Frances Ellis

This is outstanding and an excellent idea. I applaud the ASPCA for creating this program. Absolutely fantastic idea. Great job.


I was one of the statistics in your article ("more than 70% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that abusers have threatened, harmed or killed a family pet"). While my dog was not killed, my ex threatened several times to kill him. He had already abused my dog by punching him in the face. I thank God I was able to flee, five months pregnant and that my dog, unborn baby, and I were able to find safe refuge in my parents' home. I never looked back.

Robin Kassing

OMG....This made my day. More shelters for domestic violence victims need to allow pets to come to the shelter as well. Stats show that 70% of women entering shelters because of domestic violence say that their abuser has threatened, harmed or killed a family pet. Many women stay in these relationships to protect their pets. Kudos to shelters helping victims, their kids, & their pets. Being a victim of domestic violence, I totally appreciate this concept!!! Maybe this is where I need to direct my energies.........domestic violence shelters for battered woman allowing their pets!!! This would get more women out of these relationships sooners!!!!

Joanne Willis

Wow, what a wonderful thing you are doing. This is so heartwarming that women and children with pets have a place to go.

Theresa Q.

The only reason that I stay in my abusive situation in Pittsburgh is because of my three elderly dogs...they are my life. I so wish there was someone who could help us out of this so that we could be happy. (My dogs are not is just me)

Rosemary Underhay

Excellent work - much needed and high time it was offered. Animals depend on the decisions of humans and share in their troubles. I was giving a talk on animal care once at a small school in the Peruvian high jungle. I spoke discreetly about the link between domestic violence and cruelty to animals. I found one girl of about 12 years old had begun to cry. How many more know exactly what I talk about. Too many, I am afraid.


Thank you for launching this much needed program. I think it is a great idea and wish more states would do the same. More effort should be put forth to spread the word. God bless.

Eric Marro

This is great.I hope this takes hold EVERYWHERE to protect the abuse victim and their pet and help them start a road to recovery and a new life.


What an absolutely wonderful program! It needs to be implemented

Linda T

This is an awesome program!! Not only does it save pets from being used as pawns in an abusive situation, but it allows women who are being abused to keep a companion animal who can provide comfort in a very stressful situation!!