Domestic Violence Pet Haven: Pets often held hostage in abusive situations

2:37 PM, Nov 1, 2013   |    comments
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When you think of an abusive situation, you likely think of the people involved, a husband, wife, girlfriend, or the kids.  But there's often another victim stuck in the situation: the family pet.  And that pet is often used as a weapon by the abuser.

That's where Diane Sleszynski with Domestic Violence Pet Haven comes in.  The Pet Haven is just that, a safe place where your pet can stay while a victim escapes an abusive situation.  

Sleszynski added, "The abuser controls every bite of food that goes into the mouths of every member of his family, including the pets." 

Sleszynski shared her passion for pets comes in part from a personal experience, 

"My father was not the most wonderful person either.  He killed my cat and I witnessed it. And there's nothing that a child can do to stop that and that helplessness will stay with you. And, you can either turn that around or become an abuser yourself or you can learn to do something else about it."

And when we say pet, we mean pet.  If it's a pet in your home, Domestic Violence Pet Haven will help care for it to help you get out of a violent situation.  We're talking dogs, cats, snakes, guinea pigs, fish, bearded dragons.

Sleszynski works hand-in-hand with Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center and The Spring of Tampa Bay. 

"Pets are often used as a tool in abusive relationships to maintain control over the victim. They might threaten to harm that animal," added Jessica Hays with the Crisis Center.  She said her group relies on the Pet Haven for help, "The survivor might not feel like they are able to leave because they don't want to leave their animal behind or they need to take that member of their family with them.  Domestic Violence Pet Haven provides a safe haven while they're in transition."

Mindy Murphy with The Spring of Tampa Bay reiterated, "Abusers often will make threats against pets, they will torture pets, they will do many things to the pets who are part of the family in an effort to control their victim. They're just as much a part of the family as humans are and there are an awful lot of woman who will not seek shelter if they don't know that their pet is going to be kept safe."

And just like "people" shelters, Domestic Violence Pet Haven keeps pets off the grid - on purpose - to protect the pets from the abuser.  

"We keep food in front of them 24/7, they're in a climate-controlled environment, they have fresh air and exercise, and the animals speak for us; they like what we do," added Sleszynski.  And the group's goal is to reunite pets and family in a safe environment for everyone.  "It's really, really important to be able to provide these services and then to able to reunite the family at the end of the stay in shelter,  they can come back together as a family."

Murphy added, "Allowing pets to come to the shelter with the human family has increased people seeking safety."

And you can make a difference too.  Domestic Violence Pet Haven is a non-profit that relies on the contributions of others to give pets a happy, safe haven.  

If you'd like to make a donation to Domestic Violence Pet Haven, you can do so at

If you need Pet Haven services:

  1. Get to a safe place.
  2. Call 1-800-500-1119 for the nearest location of a Domestic Violence Shelter.
  4. Be sure to tell shelter staff that you have a pet and that you need Pet Haven's services.  The shelter will arrange for Pet haven to pick up your pet 24/7.

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