A Houston program is now providing free animal boarding services to survivors of abuse, in effort to help them flee from their violent homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Houston Dog Ranch is partnering with animal shelter PetSet to launch “Pet Protect,” a service to cover boarding costs, and training or rehabilitation fees for both the dog and owner. Dogs are trained to recognize the owner’s physical fear responses, and react in a way to protect the owner from danger.

Victoria Smith, Assistant Directing Attorney of Rural Legal Services and Project Director of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Individual Safety Unit, has reported an across-the-board increase in matters involving domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, and animal abuse since the start of the pandemic.  Smith strongly supports the efforts of the new boarding program.

“So often we speak to survivors who feel unable to leave an abusive situation because they do not want to abandon their pet. In many situations, the pet had been the survivor’s only source of comfort and love at home. The boarding program is a thoughtful and creative solution that will empower more survivors to escape abuse, as they can now be reassured their beloved pets will also have a safe place to go,” Smith said.

How COVID-19 has impacted violence

Even though the public has been encouraged to prevent the rise of COVID-19 cases by practicing social distancing and staying at home, the phrase “safer at home” does not apply to those who live in fear of violence.  The forced close quarters in the face of rising rates of unemployment, financial stress, and the lack of basic necessities can trigger substance abuse and rage, which leads to an increase in violence against people and animals. 

“With tensions already running high due to worries concerning health, finances, supply shortages, mandatory homeschooling, and feelings of social isolation, the stay-at-home orders then led to terrible situations where people who were abused had limited recourse to escape the abuse,” Smith said.

How you can support survivors

With the nation slowly reopening, the pandemic’s long-term effects will be felt for some time. Smith recognizes abuse survivors may feel that their options are still limited.

“Loss of employment has a ripple effect on access to the basic necessities of safe housing, transportation, and food. Employment loss often leads to financial dependence on an abuser.  Additionally, schools are now dismissed for the summer, which leads to childcare considerations for a parent who may be facing abuse,” Smith said.

Resources

Jessica Alas, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Crime Victims Unit Managing Attorney and founder of the Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network, says that supporting survivors is critically important during this time. 

“COVID-19 has enhanced the fear and isolation many domestic violence survivors must overcome to leave an abusive environment. Providing survivors with the knowledge that they still have options and that there are people and organizations ready to help is crucial to survivors and their families finding a safer future,” Alas said.

Alas’ team at LSLA focuses on advocating for justice for crime survivors as well as directing people to other available resources to ensure safety for all violence survivors.  If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse and need assistance, you can apply for free legal help by calling us at 1-800-733-8394 or visiting our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Other resources:

The Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network

Texas Law Help

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233

The Rape Crisis Center 210-349-7273

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org