* Attached video: Stephanie Schaefer welcomes a new family member to her home
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Domestic abuse survivors seeking to escape violent environments often face the difficult decision of what to do with their pets.
According to Brittany Thomas, director of marketing for Columbus Humane, of the estimated 10 million Americans who experience domestic and partner violence each year, nearly half delay their decision to seek shelter at a shelter because of concerns about the safety of their animals.
That’s why in 2019, the non-profit animal welfare organization teamed up with Lutheran Social Services Central Domestic Violence Shelter in the Ohio area to house and care for victims’ pets, making it one of only 3% of shelters nationwide that accommodate animals.
“(Pets) become part of your family,” said Dr. Maria Houston, chief executive of LSS Choices. “They have personalities, they have been with us for many years, they have been our companions, and so the victim can really decide or destroy the decision if he says: “I will just stay in this abusive relationship because I don’t want to leave my animal “.
Thomas said that since 2006, Columbus Humane has been providing shelter to victims’ animals as part of its Safe Haven for Pets program. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that LSS Choices acquired their own pet kennel in the same location as their owners.
Whether it’s a bird, a rabbit, or any breed of dog, the animals living at LSS Choices run the gamut, Houston says. The kennel can only accommodate a limited number of animals, but Columbus Humane, which cares for 50 animals annually through its Safe Haven program, has room for any overflow.
“It doesn’t matter if the pet has been abused or not,” Thomas said. “Everyone in the house, we want to make sure they can seek safety and that they have a safe space so they can reconnect later.”
While both nonprofits keep animals regardless of whether they have been abused, Thomas said the vast majority of domestic violence cases, about 70%, involve physical abuse of pets.
“If an animal is in the home of a person who is experiencing domestic violence, in most cases they also experience it, so they definitely need positive reinforcement, you want to have a very good consistent schedule and be able to show that they are loved,” she said.
LSS Choices, staffed and run by Columbus Humane employees, provides a range of services for animals in its care, all free of charge, including vaccinations, surgeries, microchipping, neutering or neutering, according to Thomas.
Both nonprofits strive to keep pets and their owners together as much as possible, Huston says, because maintaining a “magic” bond between them can help alleviate the often traumatic and harrowing situation that comes with running away from an abuser. Residents of LSS Choices can visit their pets at any time at the shelter’s kennel.
Houston said the goal is not only to spread awareness about the nursery to victims and survivors of domestic violence, but also to community organizations that serve victims and survivors. Law enforcement officials brought a pet to LSS Choices last week while the owner was being examined at the hospital for injuries related to domestic violence.
Informing the people of central Ohio about the service, she said, will prevent future victims and victims of domestic violence from thinking twice about leaving the abusive environment.
“When they know we have this resource,” Houston said, “it just helps them prepare to make that exit to safety a lot easier.”