Amy Fitzgerald, associate professor and acting department head of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, is pictured with her 15-year-old cat, Zoe, at her home, Friday, June 28, 2019.
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A Missouri woman who refused to leave her Great Dane behind as she escaped her abusive boyfriend has become the classic example of why crisis shelters need to take pets too.The 110-pound dog saved the woman’s life by lying on top of her as her boyfriend was beating her.The dog that sustained broken bones in the attack became the pet that immediately changed one shelter’s policy in 2012.Because many women will not leave a pet behind, three University of Windsor professors are creating an online pet-friendly shelter database for Canada and the United States. They received almost $25,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada recently to call every shelter in Canada and the United States, using graduate students to find out if dogs and cats are allowed or what other arrangements are possible for pets.“When you’re looking at abused women and children staying in dangerous situations or returning to dangerous situations because of their pets, having these programs in place could really save people’s lives,” Amy Fitzgerald, one of the Windsor professors involved in the research, said Friday.Fitzgerald, an associate professor and acting department head of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology, said a previous national survey of abused women done with UWindsor’s Betty Jo Barrett found pets are often the reason many women stay in or return to abusive relationships.“A large proportion, 89 per cent of the women reported that their pets had been mistreated and over half of them reported they delayed leaving their partner because of concern for their pets which for us was a huge red flag,” Fitzgerald said. “And a third of the women reported they were considering returning to their abuser because he still had their pet.”Years ago Fitzgerald interviewed a local woman whose abuser had threatened repeatedly to kill her dog by poisoning it and then the dog died. When the woman left the relationship, her abuser threatened her by telling her to remember what had happened to the dog.Fitzgerald, Barrett, University of Windsor psychology professor Patti Timmons Fritz and former Windsor grad student Rochelle Stevenson, who is now a criminology professor in British Columbia, received the grant recently along with funding from RedRover to add to the non-profit’s U.S. database.Related
Barrett, a women’s and gender studies and social work professor, said there is no accessible database for Canada. There are more than 2,500 shelters to contact including about 400 in Canada.Although it would be ideal for the pets to be with the victims, some shelters can only offer a designated place for the pets in the shelter or arrangements with volunteer foster homes, a local vet or humane society.The research will also help educate domestic violence shelters on the need to consider allowing pets. Research in 2017 showed about three per cent of websites for domestic violence shelters said they allowed animal companions. However, some shelters do take pets but don’t have information on the website, she said.There should be funding for shelters to accept pets, Barrett said, because it would be safer for the women and the animals. Women living with domestic violence are often isolated so their pets may be one of the few sources of emotional support left.The researchers don’t blame the crisis shelters. Fitzgerald said she’s trying to find funding for Hiatus House to be able to allow pets at the shelter instead of making arrangements for a pet to be cared for off-site.Related