LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – One in three women and one in four men experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes. 48% of domestic abuse survivors delay leaving because they can’t take their pets with them. Over 70% of women in domestic violence shelters report their abuser threatened, injured or killed a pet as a means of control. Only 17% of domestic violence shelters in America accept pets. These are statistics from Purina’s “Purple Leash Project,” a mission to keep pets and their people together.

The goal of the Purple Leash Project is to help ensure that at least 25% of U.S. domestic violence shelters offer pet-friendly services by the end of 2025 and they’ve already provided RedRover grants to 39 shelter across the country. The grants are an extension of RedRover’s Safe Housing program and offer up to $60,000 to shelters across the country.

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Every state now has at least one pet-friendly shelter, according to Purina, but their long-term goal is to “fundamentally change the landscape of domestic violence services for survivors with pets, so no survivor has to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet.”

In Michigan, according to the recently released Michigan State Police’s Annual Crime Report, there were 64,545 instances of domestic violence incidents in Michigan in 2022. The victims who want to escape the cycle of violence often face many hurdles when they leave, including finding a way to get their pets to safety as well as themselves.

According to domesticshelters.org, there are 70 organizations in Michigan that provide domestic violence services but not many of them have pet-friendly housing. According to their website, pet-friendly domestic violence shelters in Michigan can be found in Coldwater, Howell, Midland, Pontiac, Port Huron, Saginaw, Sault Ste. Marie, and Wayne.

One of those safe havens is Underground Railroad Inc. in Saginaw, a non-profit organization that provides services for survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and human slavery. In their annual report, they discuss their pet program and say, “Our pet shelter serves more than just cats and dogs. We’ve housed guinea pigs, birds, reptiles, and even a hedgehog! Popsicle fled with his family late one evening and spent the night in a car with mom and her two kids. The family had left in a hurry and did not have time to grab his cage, bedding, food, or water dispenser. The next morning the family called emergency shelter and were given space right away for mom, the children, and Popsicle.”

The organization goes on to say, “Staff made an immediate trip to the pet store and was able to purchase a small crate, straw, food and water bottle. Popsicle has been able to stay in a room with his family. Since then, a crafty volunteer has built him a studier home. Staff and other residents collect paper towel tubes for him to chew. His family loves having him close for snuggles as they heal from abuse.”

 Others in Michigan are also working to protect domestic violence survivors and their pets. Last week, Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters introduced legislation to reauthorize the grant program established by the Protecting Animals with Shelter (PAWS) Act to help protect domestic violence survivors and their pets. In his press release, it says that Peters created this program, known as the Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance Grant Program, through bipartisan legislation he authored into law in 2018 – called the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act – which provides funding for facilities that harbor survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence, along with their pets. Since the grant program was first funded in 2020, there has consistently been high-demand from shelters for PAWS funding. Peters, along with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), is now leading the effort to extend federal support for the program by reauthorizing $3 million for the program annually over the next five years.

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Senator Peters said in a statement, “No person should ever have to choose between leaving an abusive relationship or staying and risking their safety in order to protect their pets. That’s why I previously authored the law to create this needed program, and why I’m now fighting to ensure facilities in Michigan and around the country have the federal support they need to continue providing safe havens for not only survivors, but their pets too.”

Peters’ press release points out that most domestic violence shelters are not equipped to accommodate pets and that the Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance Grant Program, created by Peters’ PAWS Act, helps address this gap by providing support to ensure shelters and transitional housing services can accommodate victims of domestic violence and their companion animals.

Peters’ PAWS Act also expanded existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a survivor’s pet. The law additionally requires the full amount of the survivor’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses to include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the survivor’s pet.

The PAWS Act law is supported by a number of organizations, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Link Coalition, the Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) Program, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, RedRover, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, YWCA USA, the American Kennel Club, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.