12 June 2008

Pets: Helping ease abused lives

A poorly titled, poorly worded, yet nonetheless possibly hopeful, article in today's Globe reports on a study of abused women and their pets.
Over the past few years, women's advocates, veterinarians and researchers have begun to uncover surprising and at times troubling information information about the connection, including the fact that many women often stay in unsafe situations rather than leave their pet behind...

In Ontario, women are currently referred to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association's SafePet Program, in which local vets will board animals while their owners are in the shelter system.

Debbie Stoewen, a vet with the Pioneer Pet Clinic in Kitchener, Ont., sees a constant stream of pets referred through the program. In April, she housed a dog and two cats for a woman for more than a month, even though the SafePet program generally houses animals for a maximum of two weeks. Most animals are placed with foster families, but Dr. Stoewen said these animals stayed with her...

Women who use the service can arrange to visit their animals, but Dr. Stoewen agrees it would be better if the pets could stay with their owner throughout the traumatic ordeal of starting their lives anew.

There's a strong taint of blame-the-victim in the article's presentation of this study. Whether that whiff is evident in the study report itself I don't know, as I've been unable to obtain a copy of it.

The message conveyed by the Globe writer, however, is that abused women, in order to protect their pets, are to blame for keeping themselves in harm's way.

This is equivalent to blaming someone for being caring and nurturing, traits which society expects women to possess. We've absorbed that expectation well, too, since we are notorious for putting others before ourselves.

So, according to the Globe writer, fearing that cruelty will be turned on their animals, abused women are at fault for wanting to protect them.

I don't think so.

Returning to the study, it's no surprise that it recommends women's shelters to find a way of accommodating the pets of abused women. I hope more studies follow and that they explore the connection between women who live challenged lives and the pets whose companionship help keep them going.

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