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Keystone Link, OVC Grant to Help Domestic Violence Victims and Their Pets Leave Abusive Situations

According to the American Veterinary Association, 99 percent of Americans consider pets to be companions or members of their families. Unfortunately, this loving bond can be used against domestic violence victims when their abusers use the animals as pawns for control.

More than 71 percent of battered women reported that their abusers have harmed, killed or threatened animals to coerce, control and intimidate them. These batterers also use animals to control and emotionally abuse children in the home. And often, victims will not leave a domestic violence situation for fear of leaving an animal behind with an abuser.

Grace Coleman

“Up to 40 percent of battered women do not leave abusive relationships because they fear for their animals’ welfare—they won’t leave their animals behind,” explained Grace Coleman, executive director of Crisis Center North (CCN). “At CCN, we’ve seen how animals can be weaponized by abusers; they may harm pets or threaten them with harm to exert control over their victims.

“Some of these animals have guarded and protected victims against their abusers, and now these same victims are expected to leave those faithful guardians behind,” she added. “Asking someone to leave what they perceive as a family member in an extremely dangerous situation is not viable for the victim or the animal—it’s an impossible choice to make. Yet, if you look at domestic violence services, we are lacking in pet-friendly programs.”

The National Link Coalition was formed to encourage different individuals and agencies—including those dealing with domestic violence, elder abuse, child maltreatment and animal abuse—to join together to stop violence against people and animals. In Pennsylvania, the Keystone Link Coalition, which was formed by Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, and Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the U.S., works to find innovative solutions to these challenging issues.

“Domestic violence, children and elder abuse, and animal cruelty often concurrently exist, and they are at epidemic levels,” said Coleman, who is a founding member on the board of directors and the coalition’s public awareness and engagement chair. “Keystone Link looks at the connection between these various forms of violence.

“None of us can solve these problems alone, and we miss opportunities when we work in isolation,” she continued. “I’m excited to be a part of Keystone Link because it will encourage conversations between the various professionals who are involved in all of these areas, and together we can work to create innovative solutions for Pennsylvania.”

She notes that since 2011, CCN’s PAWS for Empowerment program has been making the case of the battered pet. Most recently, the agency applied for the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Emergency & Transitional Pet Shelter & Housing Assistance Grant. CCN was selected as one of five programs nationally to receive funding in October 2021.

The $493,637 grant will provide funding for emergency and transitional housing for companion animals, and training for veterinarians on the intersectionality of domestic violence and animal abuse.

“CCN’s OVC award presents an amazing opportunity to educate our community on the bond between a victim and their pets, which is intensified during crisis such as domestic abuse,” said Dana Friday, PAWS for Empowerment coordinator. “We are excited to provide options for victims to take control of their lives and escape abusive environments with their family members at their sides.

“We are also looking forward to providing trainings to local organizations to identify, and hopefully break, the cycle of abuse of both animals and persons in the home,” she added.

Coleman, whose father was a veterinarian, knows firsthand how important this type of training can be.

“I grew up assisting my father every single day in his veterinary clinic, and I saw how victims trust veterinarians,” said Coleman. “In the U.S., women are more likely to be responsible for taking their pet to the veterinarian. As women are also disproportionately impacted by domestic violence, veterinary visits serve as a prime opportunity to interrupt the cycle of abuse.

“You’re not choosing animals above humans—if you intervene, you’re keeping them both safe,” she added. “In many domestic violence situations, the first victim is the companion animal.”

CCN has already started forming relationships with pet-friendly hotels in the area to provide emergency housing to victims and their pets fleeing abusive situations. The OVC grant will fully fund two pet-friendly units in the Domestic Violence-Unified Project Rapid Re-Housing Program (DV-UP RRH), where victims and their animals can stay for up to two years.

CCN is also unique in that in addition to providing a safe space for smaller companion animals, it has the ability to deal with large animals as well.

“It is almost unheard of for domestic violence organizations to have the resources to deal with large animals, but we’ll be able to provide boarding if someone needs to move a horse,” said Coleman. “It’s a need that has not previously been addressed and we’re very excited about it; it’s a very industrious part of this project.”

CCN will also be providing funds for victims to help with veterinary care costs, food, kennels, dog beds, relocation expenses or affiliated expenses. “The entire focus of the grant is to remove the barriers that exist when leaving an abusive situation, and being able to take your animal with you is one of them,” said Coleman.

Once the project is fully underway, CCN will need volunteers as well as area farms and boarding facilities that want to help. To learn more, visit

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