Domestic Violence Survivors & Pets Heal Together

Domestic violence affects everyone in the household — pets included. “Studies show 48% of domestic violence victims stay in abusive situations out of fear of what would happen if they left their pets behind,” says Purina veterinarian, Dr. Kurt Venator. Those fears, it turns out, are unfortunately very real. “Seventy percent of pet owners who enter shelters report that the abuser has threatened, injured or killed family pets,” says Dr. Venator.

When victims decide to leave a challenging situation,  practically no domestic violence shelters in the United States are able to accommodate pets, which adds another layer of distress to an already complex issue. Anxiety about a pet can multiply the grief experienced by victims who are looking to leave their abusers. And these pets can be such an important part of the healing process for survivors.

“Pets help at a psychological level with hormones and in the brain with cognition. Time spent with pets decrease anxiety and symptoms of depression,” says Purina veterinarian, Dr. Zara Boland. “So, by reuniting people with their own pets, it’s only going to boost the effects of that healing power.” Our pets naturally “can decrease blood pressure, stress,  and cardiovascular pressure,” says Dr. Boland. “They also have a profound effect on mental health, which can aide the healing process for victims of domestic violence.”

Because Purina believes that people and pets are better together, in 2014 we began a partnership with the Urban Resource Institute and its People and Animals Living Safely (URIPALS) program to develop a long-term relationship to help survivors of domestic violence, and their pets, live in a safe place together. URIPALS is the only non-profit program in NYC, and one of the few in the United States, that allows domestic violence survivors to co-shelter with their pets. “When we first learned of URI’s mission, we were immediately attracted to the concept of helping domestic violence victims recover in a safe environment with their pets. It really spoke naturally to what we believe in at Purina,” said Dr. Venator.

Purina donated funds in 2014 to help build the first PALS facility in Brooklyn -- ,  the Purina Play Haven and Dog Park, which is a secure, outdoor space within the shelter that provides a place where residents and their animals can unwind in peace. And 2015 saw the expansion of yet another Purina Pet Haven, this time within the URI shelter in Harlem.

“We look forward to working with URI to expand the PALS program to all of their NYC shelters over the next few years,  and to spread national awareness of the need for more pet-friendly shelters across the country”, says Dr. Venator.

“To support the URIPALS program, Purina  donates funds to build the dog parks and  pet food and pet supplies to help the victims as they move into a URI shelter,” says Dr. Venator. “The nutrition for the pets is paramount, it’s fundamental. And by providing them with high-quality nutrition, they can heal and be safe in this environment with their human loved ones.”

The future looks bright for the URIPALS program, according to Ann Michitsch, URIPALS coordinator. “As of September 2016, our PALS 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 Michitsch. “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.”

To learn more about URI, get involved or donate to the cause, visit: http://urinyc.org/

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support, resources and advice for your safety: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Bilingual advocates on hand. 

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