Animals proven to help owners through traumatic events, abuse center works to keep survivors with their pets

Posted at 9:00 PM, Jun 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-05 22:00:15-04

WACO, Texas — The bond between an animal and human can run deep. Some people consider their pets a member of the family, and when life gets hard, leaving family behind is often not an option.

Studies show about 48 percent of domestic violence survivors will stay with an abuser if they are concerned about a pet.

"We'll get several calls in a month," said Whitney Thomas, Family Abuse Center Director.

"They're like 'I'll try to find someone to take care of my animal', or, 'If I leave, he's just going to continue to abuse my animal'. They have to find other means, or they'll end up leaving their animal — which is the one thing they don't want to do."

Very few shelters accept pets, and finding care can be difficult. This makes the already hard process of leaving an abuser even harder.

"Right now, 17 percent of shelters accept new pets — and we want to be one of them," Thomas said.

The Family Abuse Center is now kicking off a new campaign to start an animal shelter on their property. Twenty for Tails aims to raise $20,000 by August so they can break ground by the end of the year.

"Our goal is to have five or six kennels for both dogs and cats, a dog run so the dogs aren't cooped up inside all the time, and maybe a little dog park area so our families can play with their dogs," Thomas said.

While giving people an option to have their animals with them can take some of the stress out of leaving an abusive situation, there's also a lot more to the situation.

Psychologists say pets can play a large role in someone's mental health.

Kaitlin Cox is a social worker and psychotherapist for the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network. She said this is especially true if that person is going through trauma, such as domestic violence.

"Humans have a natural desire for physical touch," Cox said.

"For people who don't have someone in their life that they feel safe to have physical touch with, pets can help with that need."

She explained that traumatic events in a person's life can be triggered easily by other people, and that sometimes animals are the best company to have around.

"If it's un-animal related trauma, an animal that doesn't remind them of that threat can feel safe because there's not any emotional damage that can happen," Cox said.

Having a pet has also been proven to increase serotonin, lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and decrease anxiety.

"If their animals are on-site, they can visit with them — it helps with their own form of healing," Thomas said.

"Any barrier, we want to break down, for people to feel safe and work towards a violence free life."

The Family Abuse Center is roughly a quarter of the way to their fundraising goals.