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Non-Profit Builds Pet Shelter For People Fleeing Domestic Violence

Women fleeing abusive relationships are often not alone. Last year, Jayne Downing, the executive director of Salem’s Center for Hope and Safety, a non-profit in Salem, Oregon, helped a woman who wanted to leave her partner but feared leaving her pets behind.

The woman, who lived in a remote area, said her partner was monitoring her movements and had been violent with her animals in the past.

“She said, ‘I’m ready, I want to get out. I want to be able to make a change, but I can’t,’” Downing told the Salem Reporter. She added that she personally worked with the woman to devise a plan to get her into a pet-friendly motel.

The Center for Hope and Safety runs a crisis line for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, helping them access community resources and secure shelter. Downing said that animals can often be a contributing factor for many women deciding whether to stay or leave. In the US, roughly half of domestic violence victims with pets refuse to leave without their animals, she added.

To facilitate an exit strategy for survivors and their pets, the Center for Hope and Safety is building an animal shelter next to its domestic violence shelter, which can house approximately 20 people. The Safe Paws shelter will have four kennels, two for dogs and two for cats, so those staying in the shelter can keep their pets with them. Each kennel is equipped to house several animals if necessary.

The animal shelter, which will cost an estimated $80,000, received a $10,000 grant from Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company, putting the center near its goal. They are still short $2,500, which is needed to start construction this spring or summer, Downing said. Though the staff doesn’t refuse people with pets, it can sometimes makes it harder to find a solution.

The estimated cost of running Safe Paws is $18,000 a year, though the organization has already signed up some monthly donors to help cover costs. Donations of food and discounted or free veterinary care would also be helpful, Downing said. Staff from the Willamette Humane Society will train volunteers at the center on low-stress animal handling and kennel cleaning.

BJ Andersen, the Humane Society’s executive director, said social services need to take animals into account. Hurricane Katrina exemplified what happens when programs are not in place.

“What we saw in the news were people who were refusing to be rescued who were at great personal risk ... because they couldn’t bring their pets with them,” Andersen said.

Since then groups like the Red Cross have considered pets in disaster and emergency planning.

In terms of domestic violence survivors, thirteen organizations have received grants from Bayer to start or expand programs that offer safe housing for families and pets. In Salem, Andersen said people fleeing domestic violence or another crisis are often forced to surrender their pets to shelters, which are already overwhelmed with homeless pets.

“Our role becomes more of a social service agency, helping people to stay with their pets,” Andersen said.

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The Humane Society will provide short-term shelter for pets that survivors bring to Safe Paws who can’t be sheltered due to special needs, behavior, or space constraints. Steven Broncheau, an advocate at the center, said staff are looking forward to the new animal shelter.

“For us advocates, this is great because it’s one less time we have to say no,” he said.

To make a donation to Salem’s Center for Hope and Safety, visit hopeandsafety.org.

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