UWindsor to map shelters with pet care to help women experiencing domestic violence

Research shows women with pets endure domestic violence longer and sometimes return sooner for fear their animals could be hurt.

A third of women in a previous study considered returning to their abuser because the abuser had their pet

The researchers will also be informing shelters about a grant program that funds pet programs. (Juliane Kaminski)

Researchers at the University of Windsor plan on calling every domestic violence shelter in Canada and the United States to see if the shelters have a plan in place to care for pets.

Women with pets endure domestic violence longer and sometimes return home sooner for fear their animals could be hurt, according to previous research from the same team.

The information will be made public through an online tool that will help people seeking shelters find pet-friendly locations.

"We think it's vital," said Amy Fitzgerald, associate professor and acting department head at the University of Windsor's Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology.

Helping women make an informed decision

Fitzgerald said their previous research gathered from women in shelters showed that more than half of women experiencing domestic violence delayed leaving their abuser out of fear of what would happen to their pets.

A third of women in the previous study also considered returning to their abuser because the abuser still had their pet. 

"We think it's really important that they have this information so that when they decide they need to leave they know where they can go and which pets they can take with them," said Fitzgerald. 

Amy Fitzgerald, an associate professor in the department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, has been studying the issue for years and said her work has found some form animal abuse is present in roughly 89 per cent of domestic violence cases. (Sinan Khalaf/CBC)

She said some shelters don't disclose their pet policy, leading to some unfortunate circumstances. 

"Women are going into shelters and then finding out after the fact they could have brought their pet, but of course for safety reasons you can't have women going back to the home where the abuser is to get the pet."

Grant funding brings in researchers

Fitzgerald said that calls to shelters have already started and she hopes the project is completed by October.

The group of researchers, which also includes University of Windsor professors Patti Fritz and Betty Barrett as well as Rochelle Stevenson of Thompson Rivers University, are working with a pair of funding grants worth $25,000 each from the non-profit RedRover and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The money will be used to pay for a team of graduate students and publicity material, including flyers researchers plan to post in places like hair salons to let women know the information exists.

As the group contacts shelters across the United States, they're also informing them about grants through RedRover that will help pay for pet programs.

Windsor Morning