Domestic violence affects roughly 700,000 Americans each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
And abusive spouses often use threats to pets to keep their victims from leaving, according to domestic abuse experts.
To make it easier for these people to leave their abusers, many domestic violence support groups and animal welfare advocates are now lobbying for new laws that protect both people and pets from domestic abuse.
Maine, Vermont, and New York were the first states to enact laws allowing judges to include pets in protection orders, which require abusers to stay away from their victims.
The New Jersey and Illinois legislatures are considering similar measures.
"The desire to protect a pet is often a deterrent for women or victims leaving a situation like this, because they're afraid if they do, their pets will be harmed," said Sherry Lane of Caring Unlimited, a shelter in Sanford, Maine.
After 11 years of abuse, one victimís husband had threatened her, beaten her, and killed many of their turkeys and sheep, leaving the corpses out for her to find.
But the last straw for this victim of abuse came when her husband killed her dog while she was out of town visiting family.
"He had run over my border collie, who was fairly old at that point," the woman recalled. "She was blind and deaf, and she never saw him coming. He just ran her over in the driveway."
Despite the torment she experienced, this abused woman and their two children stayed with her husband out of fear that if they left, he'd kill the rest of the animals on their 32-acre farm, northeast of Boston.
"He would use the animals and threats to them as a tool to try and control me -- 'If you try to leave, I can do this. I can do worse,"' she said.
Another domestic violence victim from Vermont said having a pet on a protection order gets the police's attention.
After years of abuse, her husband disappeared with her dog and filed for divorce while in hiding, leaving her wondering what would befall her beloved pet if she contested the divorce terms.
He wanted "to control me and for me to acquiesce, to say, 'Whatever you want, just give me back my dog,"' said this victim, who asked that her name be withheld.
Two months after her husband disappeared, she learned that her dog was being kept alone in an empty apartment a few miles away, fed by a local woman. She approached local police to get the dog back, but said her concerns were ignored.
"I felt that they were laughing at me, that it was, 'Come on, let's talk about what's important,"' she said.
She said she believes her experience would have been different if the new Vermont law was on the books then.
"If you call the police and say, 'I have an order of protection for my pet,' they are going to take it seriously because there is a reason. And without that, there's nothing," she said. "Is it going to protect you from a fist? No. But it's going to give you an edge."
While many women's shelters do not accept pets, programs like Pets and Women to Safety at the Animal Welfare Society of Maine, fill that void.
Steve Jacobsen, that shelter's executive director, said Caring Unlimited approached his group eight years ago, looking for a place to bring victims' pets.
His shelter now takes in 12 to 24 pets a year. Local volunteers care for them in their own homes.
It's one of about 160 U.S. animal shelters that board pets of domestic violence victims, according to the Humane Society.
I sincerely hope that many more states and many more animal shelters soon follow suit Ė for the sake of both these human and these animal victims of domestic violence.