Betty Barrett, Patti Timmons Fritz, Amy FitzgeraldProfessors Betty Barrett, Patti Timmons Fritz, and (seated) Amy Fitzgerald investigate how and why women with pets delay leaving abusive partners.

New funding to widen study of animal and interpersonal abuse

UWindsor researchers will expand their study of the intersection of animal abuse and intimate partner violence with new funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Criminology professor Amy Fitzgerald, women and gender studies professor Betty Barrett, and psychology professor Patti Timmons Fritz, together with Deborah McPhee from Brock University and Rochelle Stevenson from Thompson Rivers University, have been awarded more than $194,000 to further investigate how and why women with pets delay leaving abusive partners, and the types of programs that could help them.

“This project will determine the best strategies for addressing the needs of abused women with pets, and disseminate this knowledge to shelters, practitioners, and policy makers,” said Dr. Fitzgerald, one of the founders of UWindsor’s Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group.

“The ultimate goal is to facilitate programs and policies that make it no longer necessary for women in Canada to put their pets’ safety ahead of their own.”

In Fitzgerald and Barrett’s previous SSHRC-funded pilot study, 89 per cent of their sample of women in domestic violence shelters reported their abuser had also mistreated their pets. More than half of the women said they delayed leaving their abuser due to concern for their pets because shelters could not accommodate them.

Among the researchers’ sample of shelter staff members, 75 per cent were aware of women in the community who had refused to go to the shelter specifically because they could not take their pets.

“In our pilot study of women in shelters, animal abuse significantly increased the desire to leave an abuser, but the presence of pets also posed a barrier in doing so because most shelters do not have pet programs,” Fitzgerald said.

“Shelters are increasingly recognizing the dilemma that women with pets confront and we are looking to mitigate it.”

Earlier this year, the team received grants to develop a comprehensive public database of the growing number of pet programs offered by domestic violence shelters across Canada and the United States. The project, in partnership with non-profit group RedRover out of the United States, includes mapping the shelters, making it apparent to policy-makers where there are gaps in service.

“This research is urgently needed to provide a program needs assessment and to inform policy and practices intended to ‘do right’ by women with pets,” said Fitzgerald.

The majority of the latest grant money will go toward hiring a team of graduate-level research assistants. The project will take five years to complete.

—Sarah Sacheli