Creating Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelters
The bond between people and pets is so strong, pet parents often go above and beyond to ensure their pets are happy and healthy. Sometimes, however, that love compels victims of domestic violence to stay in unsafe situations in an attempt to protect their four-legged family members.
Leaving a pet behind in a harmful environment is traumatic, which is why up to 48 percent of people in abusive relationships stay, rather than fleeing the situation.1 Because so few pet-friendly domestic violence shelters exist, being a loyal pet parent creates a barrier to fleeing and receiving help.
Increasing Accessibility to Promote Safety
The need for pet-friendly domestic violence shelters has been great, and since 2013, Urban Resource Institute (URI) has provided refuge to abused women, men, children and their pets. That year, URI launched their People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program, the first of its kind and the first and only initiative in New York City to allow victims and their pets to live together.
Since the early stages, Purina has supported the PALS program. The program aligns with our belief that people and pets are better together. Purina began by meeting tangible needs, such as donating food and creating welcome kits for survivors. As the program grew, we funded secure outdoor spaces at the Brooklyn and Harlem shelters where survivors and their pets can play together in a safe environment.
People & Pets: Better Together
One of the greatest benefits of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters created by PALS is keeping pets and their parents together during the recovery process.
“Our pets naturally decrease blood pressure, stress and cardiovascular pressure. Pets help at a psychological level with hormones and in the brain with cognition. Time spent with pets decreases anxiety and symptoms of depression,” according to Purina veterinarian Dr. Zara Boland. Additionally, they “have a profound effect on mental health, which aids in the healing process for victims of domestic abuse. By [preventing the separation of] people and their pets, it only boosts the effects of that healing power.”
Creating pet-friendly domestic violence and women’s shelters removes a major barrier to fleeing abuse and also keeps families from becoming broken during an already-traumatic time.
“When victims of domestic violence flee abusive situations, they are often forced to uproot their entire lives, leaving behind key belongings and supplies,” says Nathaniel Fields, President of URI. “Our goal at Urban Resource Institute is to provide survivors—including pets—with the resources and services they need to rebuild stable, secure lives.”
PALS Now & in the Future
“Our PALS program has assisted eighty-four families entering our program. They’ve had over a hundred pets among them. A majority have been cats and dogs, but we’ve also had seven turtles, a beta fish and a bearded dragon reptile,” says Danielle Emery, PALS Director.
The PALS shelters and the lives they’ve touched can pave the way for other shelters. “The reality is it would be wonderful to see more programs like PALS. That is why our agency is committed to having a PALS program in all our shelters, and eventually create a manual to educate other domestic violence agencies so they can replicate the program, because the need is so great,” Emery says.
With Purina’s support, URI will open an entirely pet-friendly domestic violence shelter, PALS Place, in October 2018. It’s the first of its kind in the nation, but we hope it will be the first of many throughout the country.
Help End Domestic Violence
The United States recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month every October, but it is a continuous issue with far-reaching implications. Increasing accessibility to pet-friendly women’s shelters and domestic violence facilities throughout the country can break the cycle of abuse. As one former URI resident said, “When I found out I could bring my pets with me, I was relieved. If you know you have a safe place to go, you’ll take your pets with you.”
To support the URIPALS program and their work to provide nationwide resources for other organizations to create pet-friendly domestic violence shelters, click here. Our belief in bringing people and animals together to heal doesn't end with PALS. Learn more about our initiatives to strengthen the human-pet bond with Petfinder, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Rescue Bank here.
If you or someone you love is being abused by a spouse or partner, call the Domestic Violence hotline 24/7 for support and resources: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) Bilingual advocates are available.