by Amanda Newsom
Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it was a clear choice of which organization to feature for October. Ahimsa House works across the state of Georgia to provide assistance to pets affected by domestic violence by offering them a place to live for up to 60 days in volunteer foster homes or boarding facilities. Their mission is a unique one that brings together two causes that aren’t as different as they may seem: animal welfare and domestic violence (DV).
Many victims who are actively working to escape an abuser don’t seek shelter as early as they would like because they fear for the safety of their pets. Studies show that abusers who have harmed a DV victim’s pet are more violent and controlling to their victims than those who are not pet abusers. Further, pet abuse has been shown to be a predictor for intimate partner violence, and pet abusers are likely to either already be or to become domestic violence offenders.
Because pets may be the only form of unconditional love and the only coping mechanism for DV victims with pets, abusers may harm or kill pets as a way to prevent the victim from leaving or as a way to coerce them into returning the relationship when pets are left behind. Victims who want to seek help and don’t know about services provided by organizations like Ahimsa House may stay with their abusers because they don’t want anything to happen to their pets.
Few shelters in Georgia allow pets to be admitted with victims, so Ahimsa House works with shelters—such as Project Safe here in Athens, GA—and individual victims to provide assistance during times of crisis. “There are unfortunately very few services available to survivors of domestic violence who have pets… Ahimsa House empowers individuals to enter their pets into a safe place where they will receive love and care while he or she focuses on escaping DV.”
Ahimsa House was founded in 2004 and has provided over 72,300 nights of safe, confidential shelter to pets, including addressing any medical needs of the pets while in their care. Last year they assisted 137 clients and their 225 pets, and as of late September this year, they’ve already served 129 clients and answered over 2,500 calls to their crisis hotline.
When a person seeks shelter from domestic abuse, they can call Ahimsa House’s 24-hour crisis hotline to complete the necessary paperwork and set up a time to drop off their pets at a veterinary partner. This process sometimes happens over weeks or within hours of calling, depending on the client’s situation. The pet will be placed in an approved foster home or may be cared for at a boarding facility. Once the client is ready to move out of their shelter, they are able to pick their pets up within 48 hours. Ahimsa House even assists clients with paying pet deposits and providing supplies to best assist them with staying together with their beloved pets.
Ahimsa House is the only organization in Georgia providing this type of assistance, and as such, they depend on volunteers, grants, individual donations, in-kind donations and sponsorships to continue. They not only help dogs and cats—they have also helped horses, birds, snakes, hamsters, ferrets, turtles, rabbits and other species as an inclusive service.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with pets to escape an abuser, please call Ahimsa House’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 404-452-6248. You can learn more about their services online at ahimsahouse.org, which has a safety button at the top of every screen on their website to quickly close the window if necessary. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or foster home for Ahimsa House, you can complete an application online.