New domestic violence shelter in New York to offer refuge for victims and their pets

A new domestic violence shelter will offer refuge to both abuse victims and their pets in a unique pilot scheme.

The refuge, which will open in New York, is the first to be specifically built with the needs of animals in mind.

The Brooklyn refuge was painted with colours which are pleasing to pets’ eyes and has pet-friendly furniture, as well as an indoor pet grooming area and outdoor “pet haven” play area.

Pals - which stands for People and Animals Living Safely - Place will be the largest shelter of its kind in the US. It will have 30 apartment-style units for around 100 people and 30 pets.

Research has found perpetrators of domestic violence often have a pattern of abuse that involves all members of the household - including pets.

Some 71 per cent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their abuser had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims.

While leaving an abuser can be one of the most dangerous times for a victim, having a pet makes this departure even more difficult.

A study of domestic violence survivors in the US found 48 per cent of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusers because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave.

“There has never been a more important time for the domestic violence shelter community to open its doors to pets,” Nathaniel Fields, of Urban Resource Institute which is behind the shelter, said.

“As we witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, pets are members of the family and no one should have to make the impossible decision to leave them behind during times of crisis.”

“The Alliance has assisted in hundreds of crisis cases - many involving domestic violence - over the past six years,” Jane Hoffman, of Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, which is also behind the refuge, said.

She said the new refuge would mean "families in domestic violence situations will be sheltered safely with their pets and away from the abusers".

Muriel Raggi, a domestic violence survivor who was in a refuge four years ago, told the refuge providers she was grateful they had recognised what an important role pets play in people’s lives.

“I remember lying in bed at night, with so many fears and worries swirling in my head, wishing I could have my dog Jasmine next to me to provide raw affection, comfort and support. URI PALS [the shelter] will ensure that other survivors with pets won’t face the heartbreaking choices I did.”

According to Refuge - a charity which provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence in the UK - for many women and children who leave violent relationships, the options open to them regarding their pets are very limited.

In August, an animal charity set up a free pet fostering programme for owners fleeing domestic violence who would otherwise be forced to leave their animal companions behind.

Cats Protection launched a service for owners in parts of England allowing them to temporarily hand over their pets to be looked after by volunteer foster carers while they sought refuge. Once owners are settled in a new home they are then reunited with their pets.

Dogs Trust runs a similar scheme called the Freedom Project which offers a free, confidential dog fostering service for those fleeing domestic abuse.