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Domestic violence victims hesitate before leaving their house as they fear leaving their pets behind

About 48% of domestic violence survivors hesitated to leave their situation as they feared going to a shelter and leaving their beloved pets behind.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane county has the highest rate of domestic violence in the entire state of Washington, that's according to a 2019 study.

For people who are being abused, trying to leave that situation is often a scary and dangerous time. Victims are often forced to leave at a moment’s notice without some of their most prized possessions and sadly, sometimes they have to chose between going to a shelter and leaving a pet behind.

It’s an issue that is close to the heart of nationally syndicated talk show host, Tamron Hall.

“48% of people who live in homes where there is domestic violence, don't leave, because there's nowhere to take their pet,” Hall said. “At the shelters in this country only about right now 15% are equipped to take human survivors and their pets with them.”

Hall has been an advocate for domestic violence victims since the death of her sister. Now she is partnering with the non-profit Red Rover to provide funding for shelters so that they can also care for people and their pets.

“Imagine the family member that you love leaving them behind in a home of violence and that's something that people simply cannot do,” said Hall. “And nor should we put them in a situation where they have to make that that that choice.”

Most shelters across the country simply don't have the resources to house pets, but thankfully some in Washington can, like the YWCA in Spokane.

“Our shelter has actually been pet friendly for like over 15 years,” said Jemma Riedel, the Education and Outreach Advocate for the YWCA.

Riedel says it's very common for people leaving a violent situation to not want to leave their pet behind.

“We know that pets are a big reason why somebody may stay or return to their relationship because you don't, you don't want to leave your pet behind,” said Riedel. “And quite frankly, pet abuse and pet torture is a common tactic used by abusers to kind of leverage that power and control.”

Not only does the YWCA shelter provide a safe space for humans and their animal companions, but they also provide pet supplies to their residents as well.

“Some folks, they're leaving with what they can grab, including their pet, but they might not have pet food, or a bed or a leash or whatever that is and so we also have some of those emergency pet supplies on hand for our furry guests as well,” said Reidel.

Pets not only help their owners during a stressful time, but they also bring joy other people living in the shelter as well.

“It’s helpful for the kiddos that are in our shelter to have those pets around,” said Riedel. “It's helpful for other residents. Almost in a therapeutic way it feels more like a home you have your beloved cats and dogs.”

SpokAnimal is another local organization that offers free services for people fleeing domestic violence. Executive Director Dori Peck, says they get about five to six calls a month from people asking for a place to keep their pet while they stay in a safe shelter.

“We help through our Guardian Angel Program, where we're able to bring the animal or animals into our shelter and keep them safe,” said Peck.

The animals are kept in a separate part of the building, away from the public and are able to still give love and care from volunteers.

“We started it to be like a liaison to the community,” said Peck. “So folks need to move and they have that that gap of like a couple of weeks, domestic violence situations, red cross situations like house fires, things like that, we're able to bring the animals into our shelter. We provide the service at no cost.”

Studies show that leaving a domestic violence situation is often the most dangerous time for a survivor which is why it’s so important that anything that could keep them from leaving, has to be addressed immediately.

“Fleeing, you know, with, with your pet can be just a huge barrier for folks,” said Jemma Riedel. “And so by being pet friendly, we're trying to decrease those barriers for our survivors.”

Both the YWCA and SpokAnimal accept donations for the pets the care for. To donate to the YWCA Women’s Shelter, you can email Melanie Wilson at melaniew@ywcaspokane.org.

Remember the number for the spokane 24-hour hotline is 509-326-2255. You can also text 509-220-3725. Someone is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.