Owners Will Risk Anything for Their Pets, Research Confirms


It is no secret that we all form very strong emotional bonds with our pets. But new research has found that owners may risk anything, even life-threatening situations, to stay with them.

The new study, which collated 27 years of research from international scientists, found that those in crisis situations, including victims of domestic violence, face increased hardship and risks when they are separated from their beloved animal. Separation can also lead to subsequent feelings of guilt and distress. The findings were published in the journal Anthrozoös.

“Our results reveal the strong emotional attachment between people and animals may result in vulnerability for both in circumstances where this bond is threatened,” Jasmine Montgomery, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at Australia’s James Cook University, said in a summary of the findings. “When people are being forced to separate in the context of a crisis situation, such as natural disaster, homelessness or domestic violence, it can result in psychological distress and the risk to their health, and well-being and safety are really impacted. Sadly, the review also confirmed that a common outcome for pets in cases of domestic violence was maltreatment and/or death.”

A stock photo shows an owner embracing their pet dog. Research has found that people are often in vulnerable situations due to their love for their pets.

Sviatlana Barchan/Getty

To reach these findings, scientists examined 42 case studies that involved separation between owners and pets due to crisis situations such as domestic violence, homelessness or natural disasters.

They found that in domestic violence situations, victims will often delay leaving the situation due to their pet. Owners often chose to stay in abusive relationships longer than is safe to protect their pet, the study reported.

“This is often because there’s a lack of shelters or housing places which can accommodate pets, or a lack of trust placed in formal support systems that they won’t be separated from their pet,” Montgomery said. “In those cases where threats to pets are made, victims can be lured back by the perpetrator which places significant risk to their safety as well.”

Natural disasters were also studied. The study said that floods, fires and earthquakes are increasing in severity and frequency, meaning that companion animals are also at risk, as they “rely on their owners to survive and care for them.”

Forced separation during these events is an “excruciating situation,” the study found.

“In times of housing crisis, natural disasters, or domestic violence, people may be forced to separate from their pets and leave them behind,” the authors wrote. “Forced separation may lead to feelings of intense grief, guilt, and trauma and a decline in psychosocial functioning.”

The situation was similar for those who were homeless. The researchers discovered that homeless people often suffer from health issues as well as unemployment. They are also exposed and vulnerable to violence and exploitation. This can lead to pet separation due to there being a lack of accommodation that will facilitate the animals. But again, this leads to increased mental distress and guilt in the owner.

“Often, it’s expected people will choose human interests over animals at all costs, without consideration of the shared human-animal bond,” Montgomery said. “What we need to start doing is taking our pets, and the value of our pets, very seriously. And, as a collective in the community, sharing that responsibility and placing the needs of pets in those areas of policy development, legislation, service provision and housing to help prevent unacceptable outcomes such as animal maltreatment or death.”

Following these findings, the researchers identified several steps that can be implemented to help the situation.

These included services that help those in domestic violence situations, being more inclusive of their pets, and asking questions about them. In terms of natural disasters, the researchers recommended that evacuation plans including plans are put in place. For homeless people, there should also be pet-friendly accommodation, the authors said.

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