Arlington: Protecting Pets Helps Their Owners Too

Arlington: Protecting Pets Helps Their Owners Too

Local animal shelters offer help to families in distress.

When her husband locked the family cat in a cage, submerged it in a bathtub filled with water and tried to drown it, a Fairfax County mother jumped in to save her beloved feline.

“The mom was actually able to save the cat, but because of it … in retaliation she herself was beaten,” said Sandy Bromely, domestic violence coordinator of Fairfax County in a video statement. “In this case we were lucky because this mom and her daughter were able to go into a domestic violence shelter.”

The family’s cats were welcomed into the county’s PetHaven program, which offers short-term placement of dogs, cats, and small animals at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter.

According to a survey by the American Humane Society in association with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 71 percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets. Protecting and remaining with a beloved family animal is one reason that victims chose to stay in dangerous situations.


The safety of a beloved pet is a concern that often keeps animal owners in dangerous living situations.

"People will stay in dangerous situations to protect their pet. It happens much more than people may realize."

— Megan Webb, executive director, Animal Welfare League of Alexandria

“It’s very sad when someone comes in and wants to bring their dog. Some people chose not to come if they can’t bring their animal,” said Diana B. Pina, LCSW-C, program director of Wilkins Avenue Women's Assessment Center, a women’s shelter. “The pet is often their last source of support, another form of loss, even if it’s temporary.”

Arlington County, City of Alexandria and Fairfax County offer emergency housing, food, supplies and care for pets in domestic violence situations. Knowing that residents are reluctant to leave dangerous situations because they don’t have care for their pets is an issue that Alexandria’s Community Animal Response Team (CART) works to address. The team's goal is to take some of the stress out of a decision to leave a perilous situation.

“Animals are a part of their family and just like any other member of the family, and they come into play in any decision that we make in our lives,” said Megan Webb, executive director of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. "We provide care for animals in those situations because our main goal is to keep animals with their owners. We keep the animal until the owner can find a safe place to go."

Arlington County’s Safekeeping/Companions in Crisis program offers short-term shelter to pets whose families are experiencing a crisis that causes them to leave their home. The program provides not only the basic needs of shelter and food, but also emotional support.

“I would say any pet boarding is stressful for the animal because they‘re not in their home or with their family,” said Jennifer Newman, director of Community Programs at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. “The upside to our program is that people can visit their animals and they are encouraged to visit their pets and interact with their pets.”

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s “Pet Haven” program offers emergency housing, food, supplies and care for pets in domestic violence situations. The program is a joint effort between the shelter, the Police Department’s Victims Services Unit and the county’s Domestic Violence Network.

"If someone wants to leave an unsafe situation and cannot take their pet with them, the animal shelter will house the pet for up to 60-days," said Officer Meg Hawkins of the Fairfax County Police Department. "During that time they will spay or neuter them free of charge and will also provide vaccinations if necessary."

The animal shelters coordinate with local police departments and animal control agencies to streamline the process of making sure both animals and their humans get the assistance they need. “It’s an extremely easy process and we do that on purpose to make it easier for victims to keep their animals safe,” said Bromely.

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