Why Does Domestic Violence Occur? Survivors like me will not abandon their abusers if it means abandoning their pets.
Susie, Star-lord and Logan, three of Carolina Reyes’ four cats. Photo courtesy of Carolina Reyes.
Pets are a big part of many families around the world. Their unwavering affection and eccentric personalities make us smile. They give people without human family a sense of belonging.
I have four cats whom I adore. I work hard so my kitties enjoy a good life, says one of my many cat mugs. My kitties and I have been together since they were born nine years ago. Their presence has made my life richer and more joyful. When I was lonely, they provided love and companionship. Strength and motivation at my worst moments. For me, as a victim of domestic violence who endured years of physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, my cats saved me.
My fondness for cats began when my siblings and I would bring home stray cats from our neighborhood. Our parents told us to put them back outside, but we kept them. My affection for animals grown with age. It inspired me to work in animal welfare, finding homes for abandoned dogs and cats, and witnessing the remarkable love between pets and their families.
When I was 27, I moved away from my hometown in metropolitan Southern California. We bid farewell to family and friends to begin the next — and hopefully exciting — chapter of my adult life. My then-partner and I, newlyweds, desired a new start. We left the pricey, fast-paced city life behind and relocated 120 miles east to the desert, where we lived together for the first time.
Being removed from my support system meant I had no one to turn to when my relationship became abusive. To retain control, abusive partners may isolate their partners from family and friends.
I couldn't leave since I couldn't locate a place for my dogs. While domestic violence shelters provide support and accommodation for victims, survivors with pets like myself rapidly discover that most shelters do not allow pets. It forces victims of domestic violence to choose between abandoning their pets or staying with an abuser. And I did for years.
Finding a companion or returning home was difficult. When I initially told a friend about the abuse, she was shocked and disbelieving. I kept the abuse hidden for years. I was ashamed of the abuse and hesitant to ask for help from family or friends. It was almost as hard to discuss abuse as it was to be abused. Carrying this secret was also unpleasant in some way. I feared my loved ones would discover the truth. My mature cats and I didn't want to be a burden on anyone. I couldn't leave my kitties behind (my partner was abusive toward my cats as well). I chose to stay as long as I could.
After three and a half years, my kitties and I found shelter. It wasn't easy getting there. Physical, mental, and emotional assault broke me. As a result of the abuse and years of seclusion, I tried to commit myself multiple times. My body had reached its breaking point the night the torture ended. My ex-partner came home drunk and assaulted me, so I texted the cops. Seized and restraining order. An honorable judge convicted him of domestic violence. The conviction provided me the confidence to confide in loved ones. Rather than disbelieve me, they embraced me with love.
My kitties and I are now closer to family and friends. Afraid to share my story about domestic violence with others, I found strength in discussing it with my kitties and support system.
I realized that by sharing my story, I am advocating for survivors and others who cannot. In their name, I urge domestic violence shelters to provide pet-friendly accommodation and to include pet protection in restraining orders. I want to see legislation supporting this so other victims of abuse can get their dogs to safety.
My animals and I are recovering together in our new home. When Logan gets some outdoor time, he eventually comes out of his shell and starts rolling on his back. This is why I couldn't leave them behind. They also deserve a loving, safe home devoid of abuse.
I cannot stress enough how vital dogs are to many survivors like me. I am positive that I would not have had the strength to endure and find a way out without my kitties. Survivors should not have to leave loved ones to obtain care. We must allow survivors to save their pets' lives, like my cats did for me.