Every September, AKC takes to our local communities with the rallying cry of responsible dog ownership and host over 600 RDO Day events across the country. Together with participating clubs, AKC educates the public about everything AKC can offer them to put them on the path to being the best dog owners they can be:
- AKC Canine Good Citizen Training
- Pet Insurance from AKC’s sponsor, PPI
- Microchipping and enrollment in AKC Reunite
But sometimes, even responsible owners have trouble meeting the needs of their pets.
The plight of domestic violence not only threatens the lives of women and children, but places many pets at risk too. Nationwide studies have revealed that between 71 and 85 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partner had threatened, injured or killed the family pet. In a landmark study by the University of Denver, more than 70 percent of battered women reported that their abusers had harmed, killed or threatened animals. Evidence has since shown that as many as 50 percent of battered women have delayed their decision to leave their abuser, or have even returned to that abuser, out of fear for the welfare of their pets.
It is a tragedy to see a woman’s health and dignity sacrificed in the face of the powerful human-canine bond. No one should be forced to choose between one’s safety and one’s pet. As one survivor told one of the grant recipients: “Leaving my dogs was never an option. Family is family.”
Over the past several years, the AKC and the AKC Humane Fund have sought to chip away at the barriers that prevent victims of domestic abuse from seeking and finding shelter with their pets.
It has been said that only about three percent of domestic violence shelters permit pets, primarily due to a lack of resources to care for and house them. In response to this generally unmet need, the AKC Humane Fund provides financial awards to not-for-profit shelters that can demonstrate a need for funding for the care of residents’ pets, or the intention to build infrastructure for pets. Even shelters that can’t house pets on site are eligible to seek support if they have fostering arrangements with local not-for-profit organizations.To date, the AKC has awarded 187 multi-year grants to domestic violence shelters in 33 states, totaling over $190,000.
As AKC grant recipients have reported again and again, keeping survivors with their pets is the first step toward healing for so many victims of domestic abuse.
In a 24-hour survey, the National Network to End Domestic Violence found that U.S. domestic violence programs served more than 65,000 victims and answered more than 23,000 crisis hotline calls in one day alone. We don’t know the number of victims who didn’t come forward because their pet was their primary concern. But if one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in her lifetime and 54.4 million households own dogs in this country, we can all do the math: there is a great need to pay attention to pets in the context of domestic violence.
Around this time of year, AKC staff sees its mailboxes fill up with requests. A handwritten letter came recently to AKC which said, “I would love to thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving my dog. The Crisis Center in New Braunfels, Texas provided me with shelter out of a sixteen-year domestic-violence relationship. I didn’t want to leave my dog. But I was able to take him with me. Now he is healthy and happy, and I am too. I am so blessed for this act of kindness and I will pay it forward.” To all the friends of the AKC Humane Fund in the room, know that your support has made a difference.
Responsible Dog Ownership Days don’t end in September. In October, America observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You can play a role by talking about this issue with your club membership. Remind them about the prevalence of domestic abuse and the sobering fact that many women can’t escape violence at home when they own pets. Your club can reach out to local women’s shelters and tell them about the AKC Humane Fund grant. Encourage them to apply for funding so that they can open their doors to pet owners in need. Tell them about your club’s rescue services, to forge fostering relationships if they are needed.
The best thing we can do as dog lovers is to shine a light on this important issue, and create a dialogue within our communities. It is said that domestic violence thrives in silence, so let’s speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
This information was slightly adapted from a press release from the AKC.