Kathy’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that helps children and animals impacted by domestic violence, recently provided a $20,000 grant in support of the San Diego Humane Society’s new domestic violence program. While there is no set launch date and it's still in the planning phase, SDHS Vice President for Community Engagement Stacey Zeitlin said that she hopes this new program will provide "a formal support system for victims and their pets.”
"Victims of domestic violence will often stay in unsafe situations because they don’t want to leave their pet behind,” Zeitlin said. "We want to make sure that is no longer a barrier for people to get the help they need for themselves and their pets. Seventy-one percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted pets. Often times when animals are being abused, people are being abused too.”
Domestic violence victims often have trouble finding support for their pets because many domestic violence shelters don’t allow animals. The only other avenue is animal shelters, which is usually not an option for victims because they fear they’ll never see their pet again, according to Kathy’s Legacy Co-founder and Executive Director Ginny Scharbarth.
“Women typically don’t leave situations if they have a pet because they’ve seen abuse take place and they are aware of what will be done to the pet if they leave,” she said. “It’s psychological control [by the abuser] that’s preventing them from leaving so they can protect their pets.”
Sadly, Scharbarth knows all to well about this need to protect. Her daughter, Kathy Scharbarth, was murdered by an abusive ex-boyfriend in 2011. She left behind a daughter, Madison, and a dog, Lady.
“Lady witnessed the murder,” said Scharbarth, who took in Lady and Madison after her daughter’s death. “She herself was a victim of domestic violence.”
When it comes to pets who have been impacted by abuse or domestic violence, Scharbarth said that it’s essential to not only get them shelter and medical care but to make sure the focus is on reuniting them with their owners once everyone has gotten to safety.
“We don’t want to take the pet away. We just want to protect them,” she said. “And the victim needs to know the pet is protected so they can leave.”
"Animals feel pain and fear just like humans do, but are often helpless victims because they can’t speak,” said Zeitlin. "There is a direct link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Reporting animal abuse could also lead to help of family members in need."
More information about Kathy’s Legacy Foundation can be found at kathyslegacy.org and more details about the SDHS’ domestic violence program can be found at sdhumane.org.
Anyone who has information about animal cruelty or neglect can call 619-299-7012. San Diego Humane Society’s Humane Law Enforcement will investigate all cruelty and neglect calls. All reports can remain anonymous.