Taking refuge can be difficult when it means leaving a beloved animal behind—and women's shelters are starting to take notice. Between 18% and 48% of battered women said they put off leaving abusive partners because they had to abandon pets, a 2007 survey found; another study noted that 65% of abused women in upstate New York postponed getting help when their pets were also mistreated. Some fear their pets facing abuse if they leave; for others, the pets are a source of rare comfort, writes Kathryn Joyce in the Pacific Standard. Yet five years ago, only four US shelters accepted animals, and the current figure remains at just 3%. Now, however, others are considering following suit.
In New York City, an organization that runs shelters has teamed up with an animal rescue alliance to run a pilot program, dubbed People and Animals Living Safely, allowing women to bring their pets to shelters. Right now, only cats and other small animals are allowed, but dogs could be next. One tragedy that helped inspire the change: Hurricane Katrina. When animals weren't allowed in shelters, some owners wouldn't leave home. "People were photographed holding on to their animals for dear life," says a social worker. Authorities began to recognize the issue. "What hasn’t happened is the trickle-down of that understanding to the small, personal life crises—specifically domestic violence," she notes. "Until this plan." New York also recently made headlines for allowing pets to be buried with their owners. (Read more women's shelters stories.)