40 Percent of Domestic Violence Victims Stay, Won’t Leave Pet

April 18, 2015

By Jonathan Lowe   |   CBS5/3TV  |   Read the original article (external site)   It's the scariest part for any domestic violence victim, actually leaving the abuse. Advocates in the Valley say they've discovered a huge gap in the services shelter provide. Domestic violence shelters, most times, do not allow pets. "We had come to Arizona to stay with a friend, and that didn't work out because her husband was being abusive to her as well," explained survivor Jennifer Preslar. Preslar found refuge in Phoenix's Sojourner Center. However, there was a problem. "They said, 'Well, you can't leave your cat in the car but you can't have him here," Preslar said. That is a real barrier victims face when they are trying to escape the abuse. "Up to 40 percent of women will not leave an abusive relationship because they can't take their pet," said Dr. Maria Garay, chief executive officer of the Sojourner Center. A pet in the picture can also be ammunition for an abuser. "Once they can't hurt you anymore, they move on to like, 'Oh, maybe I'll hurt the kids or maybe I'll hurt your pet,'" Preslar said. "We are making a disservice to the family," added Garay. Most domestic violence shelters don't allow pets, Garay explained. It's why her organization teamed up with PetSmart to build a "pet companion shelter" on the Sojourner Center campus. It's a first of its kind. "It will hold eight to 10 dogs and about 10 cats," explained Andy Izquierdo, vice president of corporate communications for PetSmart. The Phoenix-based company donated $50,000 to the pet companion shelter. Jennifer Preslar's son Robert is brimming with excitement. He hasn't seen his cat Clark since coming to the Sojourner Center. But with the new addition to the campus, he will be able to reunite with his feline friend. He says his cat has been comforting for his mom. "He keeps her company, and he keeps her warm," Robert said. The pet shelter, which is scheduled for a ribbon cutting May 12, will mean families will not only stay together, but their pets' presence will be therapeutic. "Psychologically, and physically, they make us more well," Izquierdo added. Executives at the Sojourner Center are going to study what works and what made need to be tweaked with this pilot project and then use those results to expand the pet companion shelter to one of their other domestic violence campuses.