- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 17, 2017

LEAGUE CITY, Texas (AP) - A crying woman called the Resource and Crisis Center’s 24-hour hotline one night a few years ago.

“Please, please help me,” she told Beth Spencer, who was on the other end of the line. The crying woman’s husband beat her, but the woman couldn’t find a shelter that would accept her and her dog. She didn’t want to live without her pet, Spencer said she told her.

“He’s the only thing that loves me,” she said.

The Galveston County Daily News reports the Galveston-based shelter didn’t have room for the dog. Other area shelters also don’t take in pets.

This was not a unique event, crisis workers said.

“I have talked to someone on a hotline who didn’t want to leave a pet behind,” said Sybil Winters-Little, CEO of Bay Area Turning Point, which has its main offices in Webster. The domestic violence shelter that the agency operates doesn’t accept pets. She’s heard stories about people worried about pets left behind.

“Iguanas, fish, rabbits might be dead because no one fed them,” Winters-Little said.

Five out of seven times a woman attempts to leave an abusive partner she fails because she doesn’t want to leave a pet behind, said Lisa Dishman, director of marketing for Bay Area Turning Point.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of domestic violence victims left their pets with their batterer when they went into a shelter, and in homes where domestic violence happens, 88 percent of pets are also abused or killed, Dishman said.

“In these homes, the abuser has already been abusing animals,” Dishman said. “It’s a pattern.”

And abusers use pets as pawns in manipulating victims into doing what they want, even by threatening to kill a dog or cat, Dishman said.

Domestic violence shelters look for ways to remove obstacles for both women and men who need to leave bad situations and find a safe haven. Since leaving pets behind is a problem for so many clients, the shelters are working on the issue.

One approach is for the shelter to offer to board the pets at a kennel. The Resource and Crisis Center, for example, has an arrangement with a Galveston kennel and groomer to keep the pets. The agency has gotten grants to cover some of the costs from RedRover, a California-based nonprofit organization.

The crisis center also is considering allowing pets to stay with women and children when the shelter moves into a larger facility. But that’s just one possible solution, said Selah Tacconi, executive director of the agency.

“We are definitely looking into that,” Tacconi said. “Pets are a strong source of comfort.”

She once had a client show up at the shelter with a Great Dane, but the dog couldn’t stay.

“That was her best friend,” Tacconi said.

Bay Area Turning Point is launching a pilot program, Safe Paws, to help women and children with pets. The agency is partnering with Friends of League City Animal Shelter to provide foster families to care for the dogs and cats of clients entering the domestic violence shelter. Workers will process the pets into the shelter just as they do their human clients, Dishman said.

“The pets are the ones who don’t have a voice,” Dishman said. “More than 70 percent of pets left behind are dogs. That’s the major demographic we are talking about. It’s a huge demand not being met.”

Safe Paws will start Friday, the same day Bay Area Turning Point and Friends of League City Animal Shelter will host Dogs & Divas Fashion Show Lunch, a fundraiser for the program.

Models will walk the runway with dogs on stylish leashes.

Monica Millican, president of Friends of League City Animal Shelter, has worked with Bay Area Turning Point for years. She helped find money for the agency to build its domestic violence shelter and has served in various other capacities, Millican said.

As Millican became more involved with fostering dogs and cats and working for a no-kill animal shelter in League City, she became less involved with Bay Area Turning Point, although she remained friends with Diane Savage, executive director.

They began to wonder whether fostering pets might help those reluctant clients leave abusive homes.

Millican is helping to raise money for the program.

“The money would be used to pay for food and possible vet trips,” she said.

The League City Animal Shelter will be the coordinating point for volunteers and foster families. Pets would not be kenneled at the animal shelter, but would go directly to a prescreened family.

“The abuser would not know where the animal is,” Millican said.

Friends of League City Animal shelter is accepting donations for Safe Paws.

“If someone wants to restrict it to Safe Paws, we will do that,” Millican said.

Domestic violence shelters in California have reached out already to Bay Area Turning Point to learn more and to possibly start similar programs, Dishman said.

It’s a common problem around the country at most women’s shelters, Millican said.

“Maybe we could do this everywhere,” she said.

___

Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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