Every year, more than 10 million women and men experience physical abuse at the hands of their partner. But half of those victims’ delay leaving their abusers because of their pets, who aren’t always welcomed at domestic violence shelters. According to some estimates, these numbers may even be higher.
This heartbreaking dilemma led Greater Good Charities to begin converting domestic violence shelters–only 17 percent of which already welcome dogs and cats–into safe, pet-friendly spaces that no longer force women to choose between safety and family.
“Pets are part of your family, and no one is going to leave a family member in a dangerous situation,” said Bryna Donnelly, who founded Greater Good’s signature Rescue Rebuild program in 2010. Rescue Rebuild provides all the designs, construction, and expertise DV shelters need to incorporate pets into their program, with training and personalized coaching offered through a RedRover collaboration called Don’t Forget The Pets.
“So when you think of it from that perspective, it makes complete sense that you see numbers like 50-60% [of DV victims] delay leaving because they are afraid to leave a pet behind and afraid for what will happen to that pet,” said Donnelly, whose organization also repairs and upgrades animal shelters, homeless shelters, and veteran housing across the United States. “These pet programs are not just important from the pet’s perspective, but they are a critical human safety need.”
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In addition to creating a means for pets and owners to stay together, creating pet-friendly shelters allows dogs and cats to comfort their humans during a difficult time.
“A huge part of it is also the healing part of the human animal bond,” said Donnelly, whose organization also repairs and upgrades animal shelters, homeless shelters, and veteran housing across the country. “A pet could be kenneled so that a victim can get out of an awful situation. But having the pet right there, so both the pet and the victim can heal together is just an important part of the process.”
Now the Animal Rescue Site has teamed up with Greater Good Charities to convert a domestic violence shelter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a safe space for both women and animals. In addition to celebrating Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, this life-saving project will also mark Rescue Rebuild’s 20th domestic violence shelter conversion!
This project will transform the Oklahoma shelter by building a state-of-the-art cat colony room, indoor/outdoor dog kennels, a large play area, and dog/cat visitation rooms where survivors can snuggle on the couch with their pet and a blanket to watch a movie.
“While we love to encourage the pets to be able to stay in room, sometimes that’s logistically unmanageable for the domestic violence organizations,” said Donnelly. “These are kind of the spaces that we build when that’s not an option.”
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