- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) - Bard is a survivor of domestic violence.

He and his mom escaped a violent home this past year. His mom went to the Longview women’s shelter. Bard stayed with a family friend, but he missed his mom. So he repeatedly escaped to the women’s shelter, located nearby.

Eventually, the shelter let him stay.

Bard is now one of two cats that call the shelter home, and his healing presence has inspired the shelter to begin accepting residents’ pets in the near future, The Daily News reported (https://bit.ly/28KRyxm).

When he’s not sleeping beneath a rose bush outside the shelter, Bard is snuggling residents or stretching out so shelter children can scratch his belly.

Christi Brittain, development manager at the Emergency Support Shelter, said Bard’s presence is therapeutic.

“He’s just part of the family,” Brittain said. “They love on him.”

Brittain said she doesn’t know the extent of Bard’s own abuse, but she said it’s not uncommon for animals to also suffer mistreatment in a home where domestic violence is present. In fact, she said, abusers often use pets to control their victims. Abusers will tell victims that they’ll hurt or kill an animal if they leave.

“Someone came in not long ago and did not want to leave (home) because they didn’t want to leave their dog,” Brittain said, explaining that the abuser would throw the victim’s small Chihuahua at her.

She said the shelter calls anyone who has lived in a home with domestic violence a survivor - Bard included.

“He’s definitely a survivor,” Brittain said of the fluffy, grey-and-white cat. She said he was named after the medieval term for storyteller because he shares a storyline similar to those at the shelter.

“He brings so much comfort and love to the residents.”

Bard’s presence at the shelter has been so uplifting that Brittain said he has inspired the shelter to begin accepting pets of all sizes - including large dogs and reptiles. The shelter hasn’t accepted pets in the past because it didn’t have the room or resources.

But bringing pets into the equation could help victims of domestic violence. Brittain said a little more than 70 percent of victims of domestic and dating violence own pets. Up to 48 percent of domestic violence victims nationwide will delay or refuse leaving an abusive home for fear of leaving their pets behind.

“They’re too scared to leave their pets for very real reasons. A lot of times animal abuse and domestic violence are linked,” Brittain said. “This will definitely open the door to having more people feel comfortable leaving.”

Brittain said the shelter will add pet-friendly rooms equipped with a pet door that leads to an enclosed outdoor space. The space will have a roof and dog houses and beds. Brittain said the outdoor area is especially important for owners in hiding that can’t take their pets on walks. There will also be a vet checkup area and animal washing area.

Pets entering the shelter will have to be screened to see whether they’re aggressive. If they are, the humane society has agreed to shelter those dogs until the owner moves to a new place.

“We don’t anticipate that happening very much, but we do have that in place, so the animal can still be in a safe place outside of the home,” Brittain said.

There’s no exact date of when the shelter will begin building the additions and start accepting pets. Right now, it is collecting donations of money and pet supplies. Brittain said she’s hoping to have everything finished by fall.

“We’re hoping to have activities and get the community involved, so we can get this up as soon as possible,” she said.

She said the healing animals provide is important, and the bond can help residents through recovery.

For now, Bard provides most of that healing. He slinks around outside, purring loudly and snuggling close to those who need a little love.

“You can see that healing from petting an animal,” Brittain said of the feline. “Bard brought a lot of realization to us about how healing the relationship between people and pets can be.”

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Information from: The Daily News, https://www.tdn.com

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