The bond that people and pets share is strong. This often means pet owners go above and beyond to ensure their pet is happy and healthy. But sometimes that love compels victims of domestic violence to stay in unsafe situations. Leaving a pet behind in a harmful environment can be emotionally devastating, so up to 48% of people in abusive relationships will stay rather than seek help in order to remain with their pets.* That means being a loyal pet owner often creates a barrier to fleeing and receiving help.
Addressing Accessibility to Promote Safety
But that doesn’t have to be the case. The need for pet-friendly domestic violence shelters has been great, and since 2014, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) has been providing refuge to people experiencing domestic violence and their pets. That year, URI launched URIPALS, which stands for the Urban Resource Institute’s People and Animals Living Safely program. The People and Animals Living Safely program was the first of its kind. The New York City shelter is the city’s first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence and pets to live together in shelters.
The URIPALS program started small, allowing small pets, then later was equipped to provide sanctuary to pets of all kinds. Since the early stages, Purina has supported URI’s People and Animals Living Safely initiative. The two organizations aligned in the shared belief that people and pets are better together. First Purina helped meet tangible needs—donating food and creating welcome kits. Then, as the shelter’s program grew, Purina helped by funding expansions and assisting as they built secure outdoor spaces in the Brooklyn and Harlem shelter locations.
People and Pets Better Together
One of the largest benefits of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters like URIPALS lies in its ability to maintain the owner-pet relationship during the recovery process. In everyday life, “our pets can 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,” says Purina veterinarian Dr. Zara Boland. Also, pets “have a profound effect on mental health, which can aid the healing process for victims of domestic abuse. So, by [preventing separation of] people with their own pets, it’s only going to boost the effects of that healing power.
The impact of creating pet-friendly domestic violence shelters is significant. It removed a major barrier to fleeing violence and also kept families from being 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 the Urban Resource Institute is to provide survivors—including pets—with the resources and services they need to rebuild stable, secure lives.”
Urban Resource Institute: Now and Upcoming
Because URI and URIPALS is a local New York City initiative, its impact is limited geographically. But the model has proven to be effective. “As of September 2016, our URIPALS program has assisted 58 families coming into our program. They’ve had 82 pets among them. A majority have been cats and dogs, but we’ve also had seven turtles, a beta fish, and a beta dragon reptile,” says Ann Michitsch, URIPALS coordinator. The URIPALS shelters and the lives they have touched may soon pave the way for other shelters. “The reality is that it would be wonderful to see more programs like PALS. That is why our agency is committed to really having a PALS program in all of our shelters, and eventually create a manual, and educate other domestic violence agencies so that they can also replicate a program like this, because the need is so great,” Michitsch says.
Help End Domestic Violence
Every year, the U.S. recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. But it is a year-long problem with far-reaching implications. Awareness is key. And growing awareness and accessibility to people and pets experiencing domestic violence 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.”
If you are interested in supporting URI and URIPALS initiatives and their work to spread their expertise nationwide and create pet-friendly domestic violence shelters, learn more here.
Experiencing domestic violence, or know someone who needs assistance? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week for support, resources, and advice for your safety: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Bilingual advocates are on hand.