When the only way out is through, you still might need a place to stop and heal along the way. Women and children fleeing domestic violence ( DV ) situations frequently have no time to plan their escape. The decision is quick and immediate, many leaving with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Add a beloved pet to the equation, and the difficulty becomes even greater.
The Purple Paw Project is a unique program serving Utah for almost 2 years. In that time 27 families and 39 pets have been aided, receiving shelter, any general or critical medical care, but most of all, the ability to finally end the cycle of violence and sense of entrapment. The Purple Paw gives women and children a place to house their pets while staying in DV shelters. Friends of Animals Utah works side by side with caseworkers, DV advocates, and police departments to assist families in making safe and smooth transitions to new and better lives. This would be impossible were there not available housing for the families’ dogs and cats. The women report a sense of helplessness, feeling trapped and hopeless when faced with finding temporary pet housing prior to the project’s inception. Now that obstacle to escape no longer exists.
This year we added additional foster families to meet the increased requests for assistance in housing these pets. Furthermore, we found many needed the stability of a familiar family setting as they had been traumatized previously. The dogs and cats require love and attention daily from specially trained fosters who could gently earn back their trust and teach them to be playful, friendly pets again. Visitation by owners is still a vital part of the Purple Paw Project and we make arrangements for owners to spend time with their pets whenever possible.
All pets are spayed or neutered, receive an update on vaccines, and any other medical care they might require. One dog required emergency care to save a damaged and painful eye. Due to our help, the dog regained full use of the eye and complete vision was restored. Several pets needed care for gastrointestinal disease secondary to stress and poor nutrition. This included IV fluids, medication and round the clock nursing in our on site medical suite.
While anonymity is of paramount importance, we do occasionally receive word from families once they have relocated. We heard last month from someone who let us know that she and her dog were safe in another state and that she was taking her dog to be groomed! She was thankful for the opportunity that Purple Paw gave her to get away from a dangerous situation with her beloved pet and wanted us to know that her life and the life of her dog was once again happy and looking positive.
The first of year of service cost more than $50,000 to operate. The cost to families was NOTHING; free of charge. No one was turned away. Through donations and grant funding we continue to operate this critically needed program at Friends of Animals Utah and save the lives of those needing our help.
Executive Director, FOAU
Cats and dogs aren’t the central statistic in domestic violence research but they are a key factor as to why women may choose to remain or delay leaving a violent situation. As we move more fully into the second year of the Purple Paw Project we continually find that almost anything can be an obstacle or barrier to flight, and we have to modify how we provide assistance.
Studies have shown that as many as 54% of women in abusive relationships reported that their partner had hurt or killed one or more of their pets. This shows an obvious need for shelter for these pets, and thus we created the project. But how do they reach us? That may be the biggest obstacle next to making the decision to leave. Manyfamilies have no transportation or once they arrive at the domestic violence shelter cannot get the pet to us. Afterseeing many women unable to reach safety due to transportation issues regarding their pets, we are currently working to overcome this obstacle by offering methods to get the pets to us from the shelters. We have, in the past, arranged for dogs to meet their owners when families found it necessary to flee the state to safety.
Another barrier is fear that their pet will forget them while staying with us. Many clients speak about loneliness during separation and concern that their pet will be sad or unhappy. We encourage visits during the time we are offering shelter and if possible, the family can sign the pet out for the day and return in the afternoon. We make every effort to maintain as much normal activity for all involved so as not to create undue stress. Foster families have been implemented so pets who stay for longer periods of time can do so in a home setting, further reducing stress.
As we move forward, 13 families have already been served with 17 pets, for a total of 637 nights of shelter. We foresee a need for more resources on every level with the exponential growth of the program. We remain the only means of escape for many families, a fact that urges us on every day.
Executive Director, Friends of Animals Utah
What About the Pets?
The Purple Paw Project
Statistics clearly show that domestic violence offenders often have a pattern of abuse involving all members of the household – spouses, children and pets. Victims of domestic violence who seek to escape their abusers and find shelter for themselves and their children often do not know what to do with their beloved pets because many shelters do not have the means to housethem. As a result, many victims remain in abusive homes out of fear--fear of subjecting their animals to possible cruelty if left behind. Friends of Animals Utah (FOAU), a non-profit organization, has a solution for this problem: The Purple Paw Project.
Launched in 2012, and funded through grants and a significant private donation, The Purple Paw Project offers support services to domestic violence victims when they seek sanctuary in a shelter that is unable to accept pets. Initially partnering with the Summit County Domestic Violence Coalition, the program is now available to every domestic violence shelter in Northern Utah. The project provides a temporary home for the pets, allowing victims and their children to seek shelter, medical treatment, and counseling along with assurance that their pets are safe. For the entire period that the client is a resident at a domestic violence shelter, FOAU provides boarding, food, water, medication, daily socialization and exercise for the pet--free of charge. FOAU also accepts animals any time, day or night. When the family finds a safe living situation, their pet is returned to them. Unfortunately, pets may have to be relinquished by their owners. FOAU will then find new homes for them.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence cites alarming statistics, including the following: 71% of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured, or killed family pets; 85% of domestic violence shelters report that they commonly encounter women who speak about pet abuse incidents; 52% of victims in shelters left their pets with their batterers; and abusers may harm pets to punish the victim for leaving or in attempts to coerce him/her to return. For these reasons and more, FOAU is committed to providing support for the victims of domestic abuse, their families, and their pets.
Since its inception in 2012, The Purple Paw Project has provided assistance to many families in Utah victimized bydomestic violence. Starting with 2-4 pets per month, the program has grown with as many as 5 pets being sheltered at a time. In the first year of the program, FOAU provided 843 shelter/nights of safety and care for these pets. The pets are typically housed between one week to 4 months depending on the situation. Additionally, FOAU will treat those pets needing medical care at no charge. To help relieve their stress and fear, families may visit their pets, taking their dog for a walk or cuddling with their cat.
There should be no obstacles to escape, invisible or otherwise. Leave now! the body and mind shout but it’s not always that easy. Where will we go? How will we get there? What will I do with my pets? And what comes next........
Each family the Purple Paw Project serves comes with new challenges. We evolve and add the necessary steps to make transition to a safe and stable life as smooth as possible. One new area of support that was brought to our attention recently was not transport to OUR facility but to the victim’s extended family.
After 2 months, a woman and her children were leaving to begin a new life in another state. Her pets had received vaccines and wellness exams while staying with us. Well fed and happy, the dogs were eager to be permanently reunited their family. The people could travel by bus but sadly the pets could not. FOAU quickly scrambled to find transport as we received word that the abuser had located the victim and was moving in to find them and the pets. Travel was arranged within 36 hours and the pets were sent safely on their way just as the abuser closed in. The family had left 12 hours prior and were safely out of the state. With the police notified after I received physical threats, we refused to give any information regarding whereabouts or status. Through contact with a caseworker, we know everyone arrived the destination and is settling in safely.
Protection comes in many forms. It may be a place to stay, a warm bed, medical care for wounds both oldand new. It may also be standing up and saying “ this ends now and it ends here.” The Purple Paw Project returns what has been stolen; a sense of safety, a feeling of control, hope.
Lisa AllisonExecutive Director, Friends of Animals Utah
The Purple Paw Project continues to expand and grow. FOAU never expected to play the role of teacher when we opened our doors to victims escaping domestic abuse situations, but that’s exactly where we find ourselves almost one year later. For example, veterinarians are starting to play a larger role in the reporting of abuses of all kinds. They are learning to look for warning signs of cruelty in pets. If there is a household where many animals live but none ever reach adulthood, then flags are raised. A more obvious sign is injuries to pets that don’t match up to the story being told by the pet owner.
Dogs and cats are the silent victims. We have begun working with local enforcement agencies to educate them not only about the program but how to look for more subtle signs of animal abuse. One dog currently in the program is terrified of men. She cowers and whines if a man just enters the room. Not every wound bleeds, but they all leavescars. Through patient work and loving care, the Purple Paw Project is healing the bodies and minds of this gentlesoul and others like her. We see new families every month requiring shelter from harm. As they enter our embrace, we offer not only medical care, healthy meals, and a safe, warm place to sleep, but freedom from harm. For every dog and cat, we are the first gentle touch they have felt in months or even years.
One of the last women to use our services cried when she picked up her dog. She left him a scared, subdued puppy. She returned almost three months later to a playful, social companion who barked and licked her face,running and engaging with other people and pets. “ I can’t believe this is my baby! It’s a miracle! You gave us both back our lives! “
The Purple Paw Project reaches across the state of Utah and into the dark corners where violence hides. We offer hope in the form of assistance to families seeking safety from abusers who would threaten not only them and their children but their pets as well. Every day we open our doors to a pet damaged by domestic violence, we come one step closer to ending this awful cycle.
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