Now domestic violence victims won’t have to leave pets behind

Now domestic violence victims won't have to leave pets behind (Image 1)

NEW YORK (AP) — When her abusive husband left for work last fall, she
grabbed her kids, her dog and her bags, only to run up against a
heart-wrenching obstacle: None of the city's more than 50 domestic
violence shelters would accept the pet.

“Should I still leave?”
the 34-year-old woman asked herself before fleeing and ultimately
finding a foster home for her Chihuahua.

Now, after months apart,
the family and Peppah the Chihuahua recently moved into the city's first
pet friendly domestic violence shelter, one of a growing number across
the country that address a common reason victims are reluctant to leave —
they don't want to leave their pets behind.

Ranging from urban
apartments to Western ranches, their numbers have shot up from four in
2008 to at least 73 now, with 15 more planned, according to Allie
Phillips, a former Michigan prosecutor who has become a leading advocate
for such shelters.

Behind the nondescript walls of a New York
City building that quietly harbors about 120 adults and children,
“pet-friendly apartment” signs mark units outfitted with such special
features, such as a dog run built in a side alley, intended to keep
residents from having to walk their pets on local streets, lest their
batterers learn where they are.

Because of safety concerns, The
Associated Press is withholding residents' identities, except for
information they agreed could be used.

The shelter, run by the
Urban Resource Institute, began allowing cats and pocket pets like
gerbils and hamsters in June and dogs last month, with veterinary and
other help from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals and a Purina PetCare Co. donation for the dog run.

Animal
welfare and domestic violence groups have found common cause in recent
years amid growing interest in connections between animal cruelty and
family abuse. Those links have spurred about two dozen states to start
letting pets be included in protective orders since 2006; others are
considering it, including New Hampshire and Ohio.

Studies have
found about 70 percent of domestic violence survivors say their
batterers also threatened, injured or killed their pets, and 25 to 50
percent say they delayed fleeing out of fear of what would happen to
animals left behind, said psychologist Randall Lockwood, an ASPCA senior
vice president.

“The pets that are normally a source of comfort
in families can become targeted, particularly if the abuser sees that as
a way to get the power or control they're looking for without
inflicting harm directly on the child or spouse,” he said.

Pamela Isaac knows that firsthand.

Her
drug-using boyfriend in the late 1990s beat her and used to dangle her
cherished cat out the window to scare her into doing whatever he wanted,
she said. When she ran to a neighbor's apartment to escape his choking
her, she said, he set her apartment ablaze with the cat inside. The
animal died from its injuries.

She shied from dating until 2012
and found herself with a man whose initial kindness disintegrated into
drug-fueled abuse, she said. She decided to flee last fall with her
three cats.

Now she, Lucy, Rikki and Gizmo live in a compact
one-bedroom apartment at the Urban Resource Institute shelter; she
authorized the use of her name. Taking care of them gives her a sense of
purpose in moments of doubt, she said.

“That's very healing for me,” said Isaac, 58, an art teacher. “We take care of each other.”

Around
the country, pet friendly shelters are as varied as the Women's Center
of Mid-Minnesota, which has housed dozens of cats and dogs over decades
in a six-bedroom house in Brainerd, and 5-year-old Littlegrass Ranch,
which finds short-term safe houses for abused women and their horses in
the Texas hill country.

Founder Christie Kitchens says when she
was thinking about what she needed to take with her when leaving an
abusive relationship long ago, “everything else was optional but the
horse.”

Other organizations house pets or arrange foster homes
while domestic violence survivors stay elsewhere. In Los Angeles, the
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Safety Net
program has housed more than 330 such pets since 1998, some from as far
as Florida.

Pet friendly shelters have faced questions about
whether animals are taking some focus and resources from abused people,
though advocates say they're only responding to the priority some
clients place on their pets.

For Peppah's owner, nothing can top having her three children and the dog together again.

“The
kids — when finally we got here, they didn't even want to go to school
that day,” she said. “They just wanted to stay home and be with her.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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