Leaving an abusive situation is never easy for domestic violence victims. But for survivors with pets, the dearth of pet-friendly shelters can make escaping that much harder.
By some estimates, less than 5 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide house pets. Yet the need for facilities with accommodations for animals is far greater: In one study, up to 48 percent of domestic violence victims said they were unable to leave an abusive relationship because they worried what would happen to their animal companion.
This is a demand the Urban Resource Institute (URI), a New York-based domestic violence shelter and service provider, hopes to meet with PALS Place, its new domestic violence shelter slated to open in October. Developed in partnership with Purina, PALS Place will be specifically built to house as many as 100 survivors—with animal companions under 45 pounds—in 30 apartments. URI is in the process of confirming how many pets per family PALS Place can accept.
Animals are often the targets of abuse, and can be used to perpetuate domestic and economic violence, Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) told Rewire.News. According to NCADV, research shows more than 70 percent of sheltered women said their abuser had threatened, injured, or killed their animals, whether it’s their pet dog or their pen of chickens.
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That’s why, she said, more pet-friendly shelters are desperately needed across the country—and not only for the survivors’ safety, but their animals, too.
“If the chickens are used as a tool to maintain control, that’s animal abuse,” Glenn told Rewire.News. “No matter what framework we put the animals in, they need protections when they’re being used as a tool against the victims.”
PALS Place will be an extension of URI’s People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program, a pilot initiative that launched in 2013 focused on providing pet-friendly accommodations to survivors at four of its shelters operating throughout New York City. As part of the PALS program, URI has been able to directly house over 100 pets under 45 pounds in retrofitted apartments across those facilities. The organization based its initiative on the Sheltering Animals & Families Together model, a manual developed by animal and family advocate Allie Phillips providing guidelines to domestic violence shelters on how to safely house pets onsite.
Rather than retrofitting existing shelters, the new seven-story emergency shelter, to be located in Brooklyn, will provide 30 apartments purposefully designed to be “as welcoming, safe, and healthy as possible for families and their pets adjusting to life in the shelter,” URI President and CEO Nathaniel Fields told Rewire.News in an email.
“This includes everything from choosing paint colors that are pleasing to pets’ eyes to a grooming station, and selecting pet-friendly flooring, wall coatings, furniture, lighting, and window screens,” Fields added.
Over the last five years, URI has sheltered dogs, cats, turtles, birds, fish, a guinea pig, “and even a bearded dragon” in co-living spaces, Fields said via email. “To this day, PALS continues to be an extremely unique program in New York and nationwide.”
But, he noted, even with URI’s innovation in this area, the organization still has had to turn away 350 families with pets because of its capacity limits. URI hopes to double its capacity for co-living once PALS Place is fully operational this fall, and once plans to retrofit another shelter for pets are complete within a year, Fields said.
Within the year, the PALS program will exist at six shelters run by URI. Although there are a handful of domestic violence shelters throughout the country that also house pets, typically in separate quarters from survivors, PALS Place will the first-ever facility designed for human-pet co-living.
“Having the option to escape to a co-living shelter is critical for both humans and pets alike,” Fields told Rewire.News in an email. “Escaping to a co-living shelter not only provides a source of protection for both the survivor and the pet, but it also allows the therapeutic value of the human-pet bond to shine.”
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify that PALS Place is in the process of determining how many animals can be accepted per apartment.