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Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:00

Nonprofits partner to care for pets of abused women

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The YWCA of Kalamazoo partnered with the Kalamazoo County Humane Society in a program that provides shelter for the pets of abused women. The idea initiated from the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office after staff noticed many victims of abuse didn’t want to go to a domestic assault shelter out of concern for what would happen to their pets. The Humane Society boards and cares for the pets while the women are in the shelter and looking for an apartment of their own. The YWCA of Kalamazoo partnered with the Kalamazoo County Humane Society in a program that provides shelter for the pets of abused women. The idea initiated from the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office after staff noticed many victims of abuse didn’t want to go to a domestic assault shelter out of concern for what would happen to their pets. The Humane Society boards and cares for the pets while the women are in the shelter and looking for an apartment of their own. COURTESY PHOTO

KALAMAZOO — Two cats each named Sissy had been “Mary’s” steadfast companions through abusive relationships that finally led her to seek help at the YWCA of Kalamazoo’s Domestic Assault Shelter.

However, Mary (not her real name) was reluctant to move into the shelter until she knew her two cats would be taken care of. A counselor at the YWCA told her about a partnership between the nonprofit organization and the Kalamazoo County Humane Society that provides temporary care and shelter for animals whose owners go into the domestic assault shelter.

The Safe Shelter program began 10 years ago as a way to address the concerns of domestic abuse victims like Mary who are reluctant to leave an abusive relationship because of concerns about their pets, said Aaron Winters, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Humane Society.

For four years, Mary lived in a barn and later in her son’s garage with her cats until cold temperatures made it difficult to stay.

“I was reluctant and worried about my cats. I didn’t know what to do with them. It is very true because people love their animals and love them as one of their family,” Mary said of her reluctance to move into the shelter until she knew her cats had a safe place to go. “Sometimes animals are all you have to look to for comfort and reassurance.”

Mary walked away from a 30-year marriage to an abusive spouse and into a four-year relationship with an abusive partner.

Winters said Sissy and Sissy, both 12-year-old cats, were placed with a Safe House volunteer who cared for them for six months until Mary was able to find a stable living situation. He said when the program first started, the maximum stay was about four weeks. Now, he said, it’s not uncommon for an animal to be in a volunteer’s care for two months because it’s taking more time for people to find housing.

“They’re held in a private location. In most cases, it’s some sort of kenneling in a private situation and not a home,” Winters said.

The volunteers who take care of the animals are paid at a discounted rate as are the veterinarians who perform thorough examinations to make sure the animals are disease-free and vaccinated before being placed. Winters said the typical vet fee is between $100 and $200 and the total amount spent to take care of each animal is between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the care needed for the animals and the amount of time it spends in sheltered care.

A former Humane Society board member who worked for the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office floated the idea for the joint venture after seeing women in abusive situations who wouldn’t go into domestic assault shelters because they didn’t want to leave behind their animals.

The Humane Society has about $5,000 budgeted annually to pay the cost of the Safe Shelter program. Winters said his organization also receives money through special appeals and received a donation last year from the Women’s Giving Circle through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. But a lack of funds doesn’t prevent him from taking in animals that need a safe place to stay.

“The challenge is we just never know when an animal is going to come in,” Winters said. “When you have a program like this you just have to do it. We do what we can and figure out how to pay for it afterwards. We have some very kind folks out there. Some people do it for free.”

The majority of the 60 or 70 animals that have been in the Safe Shelter program since it began are cats and dogs, although Winters said he has had the occasional bird and guinea pigs. Last year, eight animals received care through the program, and in the first part of this year, Winters said he’s already had six dogs and two cats come through.

Pet owners must contact the Humane Society at least every two weeks to let staff know how they are doing.

“Some of our clients literally left in the night, changed their names and moved to other states,” Winters said. “We’ve had one situation where a person has disappeared.”

Mary said she called as often as she could.

“I checked in every week to update Aaron and his staff on where I was and how close I was to finding an apartment,” Mary said. “I was on pins and needles every time I called because I was so worried. This program is a real blessing.”

Read 2103 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 September 2013 14:41

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