More than 70 percent of domestic and dating violence victims own pets, and up to 48 percent of domestic violence victims nationwide delay or refuse leaving an abusive home for fear of leaving their pets behind.
Many housing shelters cannot accommodate pets regularly, and until this weekend, the Emergency Support Shelter in Longview was only able to host therapy animals. It’s something that has prevented victims from coming to the Emergency Support Shelter before, said development manager Christy Brittain.
Beginning Saturday and continuing through Wednesday, 17 volunteers from non-profits Rescue Rebuild and RedRover will lend a hand to convert three of the Emergency Support Shelter’s rooms into “pet-friendly” rooms in order to better accommodate survivors with pets.
This is the first project of its type for both organizations. Based in Sacramento, RedRover usually provides emergency disaster response for animals and their owners. Rescue Rebuild, based near Philadelphia, typically renovates animal shelters in need.
“It’s not much of a leap,” said Bryn Donnelly, a volunteer from Rescue Rebuild. “It’s just an extension of the work we’re doing already.”
To begin the renovations, volunteers ripped out old carpeting and installed new tile.
“Everything needs to be super easy to clean,” Donnelly said.
Next, doggy doors will be built into the wall that leads to the back of the shelter, entering into a fenced kennel area. Window perches and a suspended rope bridge will be installed for cats that visit the shelter, too.
“We want for the pets to be as comfortable as possible,” Donnelly said.
Additionally, the three pet-friendly rooms will all be in the same hallway. If a resident has allergies or another issue with the animals, they will be housed in a separate part of the shelter.
The shelter has already taken other measures to make survivors and their pets feel more welcome. The shelter held a pet supply drive this summer and was able to obtain hundreds of pounds of animal food, in addition to cat towers, cat litter and boxes, collars and even pet clothes.
ESS has an arrangement with the Humane Society of Cowlitz County to house any possibly aggressive animals belonging to shelter residents. Ocean Animal Hospital has offered to provide basic veterinary services for shelter residents’ animals for free as well.
It’s difficult knowing that lack of pet-friendly rooms could be one of the only barriers to getting help, Brittain said. And often animals end up victims of violence and need a safe place to stay, too.
“We’ve heard (from survivors) how therapeutic it is to have their pet with them,” Brittain said. “Just petting an animal can help relieve anxiety.”