Coalition formed to help domestic abuse victims take pets with them

Six organizations in the Twin Cities have formed a coalition to help people escaping domestic violence take their pets with them.

The Minnesota Pet Foster Coalition is working to find temporary foster homes for dogs and cats when their owners are coming from domestic violence situations and need immediate help.

Nearly half of the people who are experiencing domestic abuse remain in their situations so they don’t have to leave a beloved pet behind, according to a nonprofit organization to help pets in crisis situations. The Red Rover Purple Leash Project, formed to increase pet-friendly domestic violence shelters nationwide, also reports that 71 percent of women in domestic violence shelters say their abuser threatened, injured or killed a pet as a way to control the person being abused.

“It’s a barrier because they don’t want to leave and are worried about harm coming to the animal, the partner selling the animal or giving the animal away,” said Tabitha Ewart of the Animal Humane Society. “It really prevents some people from being able to seek a safe space.”

Being able to bring their pet with them is a huge need, she said.

While the larger goal is to open more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters, the new local coalition is focused on creating a support system where volunteers can take pets into their homes on short notice for anywhere from 72 hours to 90 days.

No time to wait

Ewart said her organization has been partnering with Cornerstone, a shelter, for the past 10 years in just such a way. But often there is a week or longer wait list for temporary pet fosters, she said.

Someone escaping an abusive situation often doesn’t have that sort of time to wait.

“That is our biggest gap in services,” she said.

“We’ve had many cases where a partner has harmed an animal in the past or threatened to harm an animal,” Ewart said. “We also have situations where people have kids who are extremely attached to a pet and don’t want to take this additional thing away from a kid who is already leaving their home and their school in some cases. It’s that one piece we can keep for them, to keep their pet part of their family.”

The coalition’s announcement included one victim-survivor’s personal story: “When you’re going through something very traumatic like that, your pet kind of becomes your safety net. I knew I couldn’t leave them there because I was afraid (my abuser) would hold that against me and abuse them and do something to manipulate the situation so I’d come back.”

Pet fosters needed

While there are more and more domestic violence shelters that allow families to have their pets with them, sometimes the pet isn’t a good fit for that environment, she said.

“Maybe the animal is not well socialized with kids or has behavioral problems,” she said, noting that a crisis foster situation will be needed in those instances.

More than anything what the coalition needs is people to volunteer as pet fosters.

“It’s the foster piece,” Ewart said. “We need more fosters. We need people to step into the emergency placement role in a crisis.”

The coalition was formed to help solve some of these issues.

“The coalition is a problem-solving and barrier-addressing group that will work on putting these systems in place,” she said. “There is no one agency that can do all this work on its own. This coalition was formed for us to bring our various strengths and resources together to develop a comprehensive program of support.”

Along with the Animal Humane Society, the coalition includes two animal welfare organizations — The Bond Between and Four Winds Connections — and three shelters: Women’s Advocates, Cornerstone and Tubman.

“One of our missions at The Bond Between is to keep people and pets together. We want to make fostering accessible to everybody. We provide all supplies, anything you would need— baby gates, crates, bowls, leashes — anything you can think of,” said Carrie Openshaw of The Bond Between.

People who want to volunteer can go to https://tinyurl.com/ApplyMNPC

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