When Rehoming is a Matter of Life and Death

People give up their pets for all sorts of reasons, including illness, inconvenience, and financial problems. But sometimes, a rescue will be contacted by someone who wants to rehome their dog so they can leave an abusive relationship; in such cases, it’s often an issue of life or death for both the dogs and the humans.

I remember our rescue was contacted by a young woman who wanted to rehome her dog so she could leave her husband. During the course of the conversation, she became discouraged several times because she was sure her husband would figure out a way to find and hurt her dog no matter what she did. We explained to her that we had ways of making sure that this wouldn’t happen (I can’t tell you what those ways are, but we’ve had great success with them). With her help, we found a prospective adopter for her dog, and she left her husband. She didn’t stay in touch, but I’ll always remember how terrified she was, and how convinced she was that her husband would end up killing her and her dogs — he’d almost convinced her that he was all-powerful and that no one could help her or her pets. (Looking back, I am awestruck by her bravery in leaving him under those circumstances.)

It’s hard to apply the word lucky to someone in this situation, but the sad truth is that this woman was very fortunate to find a rescue to take her dog. Not all abuse victims have this option. A lot of groups are reluctant to become involved in these cases because they don’t have the resources to fight off a legal challenge.

For family violence victims who can’t find a home for their pets on their own, a pet can quickly become a powerful weapon for the abuser. Consider these statistics from Safe Place for Pets:

  • Up to 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusers because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave.
  • 52% of victims in shelters leave their pets with their batterers.
  • 71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets.

As you can see, what will happen to their pets is an important factor in domestic violence victims’ decision making. They know if they leave, the probably won’t be able to take their pets — many shelters can’t house them, and even if they can, they are unlikely to have the financial resources to care for them. They also know that their partner is capable of doing terrible things to animals, and they can’t let that happen, so they stay. There’s no question that (trigger warning on this link) some of the women who made that decision died as a result of it.

So, what resources are available for domestic violence victims with pets, and for the people and organizations that want to help them?

  • Red Rover provides grants to provide for care and housing of animals in domestic violence situations. These grants are given on a case-by-case basis, and must be submitted by a caseworker or domestic violence shelter.
  • Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) provides solutions for shelters seeking to help victims of family violence keep their pets with them. SAF-T was founded by a lawyer who watched a client return to an abusive partner so she could stop him from killing her pets.
  • This list from the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center tells which states include pets in domestic violence protection orders.
  • The Animal Welfare Institute provides a searchable database of organizations that provide sheltering services for the companion animals of domestic violence victims, have a relationship with an entity that does, or provide referrals to such facilities.

If you want to help locally, check with your local animal shelter to see if they have a partnership with domestic violence shelters in your area. Your ability to foster an animal could save lives. If they don’t have a program like that in your area, maybe it’s time to suggest one, or see if they’ll let you start one yourself. You can save animals like Panzer, who was protected by a law in his state that allows pets to be included under orders of protection.

Panzer the dog
Panzer was protected by a domestic violence law that included pets. If your state doesn’t have one, maybe it’s time to do something about it. (Photo credit:

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Moretta is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. Her Twitter is

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