Statia Grossman
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December 06, 2018 04:21 PM

A new domestic violence shelter open in Brooklyn, New York, wants to make sure no family has to decide between their pet and their safety again.

On October 30, Urban Resource Institute (URI), the largest provider of domestic violence services in the country, opened the nation’s first pet-friendly domestic violence shelter of its size.

“Prior to the launch of URI’s overarching People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) Program in 2013, there were no domestic violence shelters in New York City that accepted pets. URI recognized this lack of pet-friendly facilities as an obstacle preventing survivors from seeking resources – and that no individual should have to make an impossible choice between their own safety and leaving a beloved pet behind. To address this service gap, URI created the first program of its kind in New York City, PALS, to provide co-living domestic violence shelters where families can live and heal with their pets in the same apartment,” President & CEO of URI, Nathaniel Fields, tells PEOPLE.

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Every apartment in the Brooklyn shelter, called PALS Place, is designed to be a co-living space for survivors and their pets, so families are never apart from their four-legged members. All of the spaces at PALS Place use pet-friendly materials, furniture and color palates. The shelter also includes a grooming station and a outdoor play area for pets.

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Along with opening this new shelter, URI has also retrofitted five of its domestic abuse shelters to be pet-friendly. At all of these shelters, including PALS Place, families with pets are given welcome kits that contain many of the resources their pets need: food, leashes, litter and toys. Through URI, there are now over 100 apartments in New York City where domestic abuse survivors and their pets can live together.

According to URI, nearly 50 percent of domestic violence victims stay in abusive situations because they are worried about what would happen if they left their pets behind. Sadly, 70 percent of pets living in an abusive household are harmed. Since only 3 percent of U.S. domestic violence shelters allow pets, survivors often have no choice but to re-home or abandon their pets if they choose to leave their abusive household.

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“Through the PALS Program, URI hopes to raise awareness of the connection between domestic violence and pets, in turn inciting a national movement to create more pet-friendly DV shelters leveraging the co-living model. We’re in the process of creating a toolkit to give other service providers the tools do so,” Fields says.

With more pet-friendly shelters, domestic abuse survivors will be able to benefit from the support a pet provides, especially in times of emotional stress.

“Not only does the PALS Program enable survivors and pets to stay together during a critical time of transition, but the program also taps into the therapeutic value of pets in improving human health and wellbeing. Research suggests the presence of pets can help reduce blood pressure and fatigue in people, as well as increase the presence of feel-good hormones, creating a sense of calm,” Fields adds.

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