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.
When the Purple Paw Project began earlier this year, we were predominantly serving northern Utah, but we quickly started taking calls from around the state once shelters were aware of the service. In October, we received our first call from the southeastern US asking for help. Leaving at night, the family was coming to Utah with very littleinformation, just in a hurry to be out of their current danger. Not only were we able to assist with takingthe pet to safety, we had information on several shelters for the family, as well.
Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. Our clients come from all walks-of-life, their pets both dogs and cats, large and small, young and old. We know the important role pets play in our lives and the families we meet do, too. They tell us, “ The project is awesome!; I’m so relieved to know my pet is safe now.; and It makes me happy to see how happy my pet is staying with you! “ We try to maintain as much normalcy as we can for everyone during the average 30 - 60 day stay. Visitation is allowed, and updates via phone calls are given.
Many of these pets have never been vaccinated or seen a veterinarian recently for wellness checks. The Purple Paw Project fund pays for all their medical needs, both routine and serious. Past pets have been spayed and neutered, received care for pneumonia, and ulcerative eye disease, all free to the family, to name but a few of the treatments.
The Purple Paw Project NEVER turns a family in crisis away. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to shelters and families. We serve the voiceless victims because it’s never too early to speak up and reach out.
Executive Director, Friends of Animals Utah
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