Safe Haven for Victims of Abuse, and Now Their Pets

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Leaving an abusive relationship is often a long arduous process. Victims at times hold on to hope things will change, or they stay because they are financially dependent. But experts say people also hesitate to leave because they don’t want to abandon their pets.

On June 1st, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) will become the first non-profit in New York City to let domestic violence victims bring their pets into shelter with them.

The pilot project will start small. Ten apartments are to be outfitted for pets at one of URI’s four shelters. Only small animals such as cats, hamsters, and fish will be allowed. In six months, the non-profit hopes to expand the program to all four of its shelters and allow dogs. But first it will raise money to build dog runs and make other accommodations says URI President, Nathaniel Fields.

“Sometimes victims of domestic violence when they come into shelter, women don’t feel like they want to go out immediately so if they have a pet we want to have options available to be able to walk the pet within the shelter environment,” explained Fields.

Jenny Coffey from the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals has seen the problem first hand. Right now, she is the only resource for victims - mainly women - struggling with what to do with their animals. Sometimes Coffey helps people find a family or friend to take the pets in and when necessary she boards the animals in rescue shelters. In about half the cases the pets are threatened or abused.

“We had a Yorkie with broken legs and the abuser had broke both the legs twice,” Coffey said. “We’ve had incidences where the dogs were stabbed, cats thrown.”

Janet Blake fled a domestic violence situation in January and considers her pets’ part of the family. That’s not her real name. She wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons. She’s currently living in a shelter and said it was devastating to have to leave her guinea pig and two teacup Chihuahuas behind.

“My kids love the dogs and just being around them everyday and now they hardly see the pets,” Blake said. “It’s really hard for the family to really accept that we have to be apart from each other.”  

The animals are staying with a friend. But Blake said she recently got a call to come pick them up. She’s hoping Coffey from the Mayor’s Alliance will help find a boarding home.