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National Museum of Animals & Society Blog
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and though violence in the home is tragic, there are stories of triumph that are important to learn about as well. When someone flees their home due to domestic violence, often they have to do so with little more than just the clothes on their backs. This is clearly a trying time as they are separated not only from their homes but also from loved ones, as they must avoid providing clues as to their whereabouts while escaping from their abusive partners or guardians. This is where a little-known type of therapy animal steps in. Domestic abuse shelters are increasingly employing dogs and cats to lift the spirits of adults and children who have fled abusive environments.
Many people already know that dogs and cats are used in hospitals and rest homes in order to bring love and comfort to the patients and residents. Domestic abuse shelters are now implementing a similar strategy. Studies have shown that interaction with an animal can lower blood pressure, battle depression, and help increase mental stability. Also, for those who had to leave their pets behind, having a therapy animal in the shelter brings a little bit of home to an unfamiliar place.
Safe Horizon, an advocacy organization for victims of domestic violence, explains why therapy animals are so beneficial: they don’t judge, they just love. Also, “a physically or sexually abused child may not want anyone – not even their non-offending parent – to touch them. Yet they will want to pet, hold, or even hug a dog or cat.” The animal can also provide a non-threatening presence to whom the child may verbally communicate feelings. Somewhat like when a child speaks through a doll to let go of secrets and feelings, when the child talks to a therapy animal s/he does so with his or her guard down because the child knows that the animal doesn’t understand the specific words. The child can say anything s/he needs to release and not fear having it come back.
This is just another example of how animals can bring joy and peace into the lives of humans in a multitude of ways.