CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Survivors of violence may range by sex, race, or age, but pets may also fall victims to abuse.

Abusers will often use pets for revenge or retaliation, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

Concerns surrounding animal abuse are an ongoing issue for pet owners here in Hampton Roads. To empower victims of violence to safely plan, the Chesapeake Humane Society is offering crisis boarding for pets.

The program works with those who experience a housing crisis, recent hospitalization and victims in a toxic relationship.

“One of [my pitbulls] is a crisis boarding animal,” said Shoshana Mostoller, the Chesapeake Humane Society veterinary social worker. ” It was a hospitalization — he loved her, but wasn’t able to pick her back up.”

Through a trauma informed lens, she helped create the program and protocols in February 2022. Last year, 60 pets were accepted into the program. This year, the number will likely double, with 110 pets already in the program.

“I’m proud of working for an organization that’s made it a priority to really look at what the needs are in our community and meet those needs to the best of our ability,” Mostoller said. “Everyone who works here understands the importance of helping keep families together and that’s really a beautiful thing.”

Mostoller met with 10 On Your Side in the shelters quiet ‘crisis boarding counseling room.’ 

“We really try to never turn down a domestic violence case, especially if they’re working with an organization,” Mostoller said. “About 10% of our accepted animals were from domestic violence cases.”

Several anti-violence agencies partner with the Chesapeake Humane Society, including:

  • Transitions Family Violence Services on the Peninsula
  • YWCA in Norfolk 
  • HER Shelter in Portsmouth 
  • Samaritan House in Virginia Beach

“A lot of people will not leave a relationship because of their pet,” said Olivia Smithberger, the HER Shelter CEO. “We look at our pets like family. Unfortunately, the majority of shelters, unless it is a service animal, they cannot come in to shelter because we just don’t have the facilities available.”

Just last week, three people with Samaritan House were able to get emergency shelter for their pets through the crisis boarding program.

“Victims of violence won’t leave their partner because they’re afraid the abuser is going to hurt the pet,” said Robin Gauthier, Samaritan House executive director. “A lot of times, victims are so concerned, they’d rather stay home with the abuser than to go to a domestic violence program that won’t take their pet.”

Recognizing this potentially deadly decision to stay in a dangerous situation, one Samaritan house shelter will allow survivors to live with their pets.

“We want to remove any barrier where there is for a victim of violence not to seek shelter or seek safety,” Gauthier said. “We’re more concerned about people, we’re more concerned about children, but we are also concerned about pets. They are emotionally-stabling relationships that our clients have with their pets. The animals are also used for help with disabilities.”

NCADV reports 71% of pet owners entering shelters report their abuser threatened to hurt or kill a pet. The Chesapeake animal care center is one of a few shelters in the area to offer a program like this. 

“The feedback I get is, ‘I knew that you guys were taking care of my animals. It gave me one less thing to worry about. I could just focus on what I needed to do for me,'” Mostoller said. “I give them updates. We send people pictures. We let them know how their pets are doing. Then if their animal is at the shelter, then they’re allowed to come visit.”

The human-animal bond may be misunderstood.

“When someone’s not a pet person, they might not understand how deep that connection really is,” Mostoller said. “People don’t understand the pain of giving up an animal that you don’t want to give up. You’re worried about what’s going to happen to that animal when they’re not with you. There’s a lot of concerns and sadness.”

Mostoller added that “if you know of somebody who is having a temporary crisis and you know needs help with their pet, have them reach out. I might not be able to help them. I may not have enough space. Their animal may not be appropriate for our program, but I would still rather talk to them and try to come up with a solution.”

If you or you know someone who may be a victim of domestic violence or child abuse, click here for a list of local and national resources.