This is a guest post written by Colleen Parker and Danielle Emery of Urban Resource Institute People and Animals Living Safely (URI PALS). This is part two of a series on building a culture of safety at your animal welfare organization. You can read part one from last week.
The complicated nature of domestic violence cannot be solved in a blog post. But there are simple things an animal shelter or rescue organization can do to help survivors. From questions upon intake, leaving brochures in restrooms to providing training to employees, these small steps can save the lives of people and pets.
What can animal shelters do to help survivors of domestic violence?
Any animal shelter or veterinary clinic can take simple steps to support clients who may be experiencing domestic violence. One way is to keep literature about domestic violence prominently displayed at the front desk and in exam rooms alongside all the other brochures and information that you provide. Bathrooms are another great place to display posters with information about abuse and available resources.
Another small step that animal-facing services can take is to add questions to all client intake paperwork about experience or risk of domestic violence (DV).
How to help employees/volunteers understand domestic violence
It’s important to help all staff and volunteers develop a basic understanding of domestic violence and how to respond sensitively to disclosures. Ask your local DV provider to provide DV 101 training to your staff—this is a great way to access knowledge and develop a community partnership at the same time! PALS works with the ASPCA and NYC’s local Family Justice Centers to provide a cross-training for DV advocates across the city on the intersection of DV and pets.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) is a great place to start for general information and resources. The Hotline phone number and chat feature can also be shared by animal shelters across the country.
Many state coalitions have webinars available online or training programs – check yours out! See if you can request a training specifically for your organization or a group session for all the animal welfare providers in your community.
How to talk about domestic violence, respectfully
In general, we use “survivor” when speaking about a person experiencing domestic violence. Human services providers and the police/legal systems also often use the word “victim” interchangeably, especially when discussing different stages of an individual’s experience with abuse. Another option is, “folks at risk for experiencing abuse/violence.”
The best place to turn for guidance on this is to folks who have experienced abuse themselves; pay attention to how they describe themselves and their experiences and emulate that. It also never hurts to directly ask someone what language they prefer!
Always follow the survivor’s lead
It’s important to remember that they are the experts in their own lives and safety and it’s important to honor that agency. You can best help by creating a safe, supportive space and preparing staff with a basic knowledge of the dynamics of DV and the resources available in the community, but don’t push for disclosure. Make sure they know how to follow up or get back in touch with you or others.
Be open to the possibility that even when offered resources, such as the opportunity to shelter together, boarding, or foster care, a survivor may still opt for surrender. Navigating and leaving an abusive situation can be very overwhelming – and dangerous – so it may be that the survivor will feel most supported and helped if they are able to surrender and know that their pet will be cared for.
If someone discloses that they’re unsafe but still wants to surrender their pet, consider instituting a policy to check in with that client in a set time frame or increase hold times on those specific animals.