A Multi-Method Approach to Examining California Domestic Violence Shelter Companion Animal Policies
A growing body of literature has acknowledged the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty, resulting in a shift in the way we think about family violence and those who are victims of abuse (Flynn, 2000; Volant, Johnson, Gullone, & Coleman, 2008). However, national trends indicate that most domestic violence shelters do not accommodate companion animals; such absence of consideration may delay or even preclude individuals from exiting a domestic violence situation due to fears of their companion animals being harmed if left behind (Flynn, 2000; Faver & Strand, 2003; Krienert, Walsh, Matthews, & McConkey, 2012). This mixed method exploratory study is the first to describe companion animal policies among a convenience sample of California’s domestic violence shelters (n=58), in terms of how such may facilitate or pose barriers to safe exiting of domestic violence situations.
This study employed a mixed method approach to identify and describe domestic violence shelter policies relating to companion animals. Surveys were sent to a list of 95 domestic violence shelters and transitional houses in California obtained through the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV) website; this website provides a comprehensive list of all domestic violence shelters in the state of California. Of the 95 surveys distributed, 58 (61%) were returned and analyzed. Quantitative data provide information about the type of shelter, number of clients served, companion animal restrictions, visitation, placement of companion animals, and financial management. To help illuminate survey data, in-depth interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 18 domestic violence shelter administrators who responded to the survey portion of this study; protocol consisted of nine open-ended questions examining the challenges of housing both victims and their pets. Interviews with domestic violence shelter administrators were conducted both in person and over the phone, and were recorded with interviewee permission. Thematic analysis was used to identify salient issues within and across interviews.
Among participating agencies, a large number (78.6%) asked their clients about pets upon intake, which is typically (55%) the time in which the companion animal is placed by a counselor or social worker. Most companion animals (66.7%) were placed with a foster family for 3-6 months (57.9%). In most instances (73%) the client was responsible for the cost of housing their companion animal, primarily because the majority of the agencies responding (78.9%) did not have the funding available to assist their clients.
Open-ended interviews revealed more in-depth information regarding experiences attempting to manage placement of companion animals. The following themes were generated from the open-ended interview responses: Agency Collaboration, Companion Animal Safety, Placement Challenges, and Cost/Resources.
Findings illuminate and underscore the difficulties faced by domestic violence agencies struggling to provide services and safety to victims of domestic violence and their companion animals. Domestic violence programs and animal welfare organizations need to work collaboratively to decrease barriers for individuals who have companion animals and are seeking to leave domestic violence situations.