They have made the decision to leave. Arrangements have been made for themselves and their children. But without their pets, they’re not going anywhere.
“Statistics say that anywhere from 69 to 89 percent of those who are in an abusive household will not leave because of their pets, knowing that the abuser will use the pets as collateral to get them back,” Dana McCrory, president and chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Humane Society, said.
So, in February, the Oklahoma Humane Society welcomed the addition of the Purina’s Animal Care Center, an animal shelter designed to serve as a temporary home for pets whose owners are experiencing domestic violence.
The new six-kennel structure is housed at an undisclosed location to ensure the safety of both the animals and their owners. It serves as an emergency safe space for pets until a temporary foster home can be secured. The new facility was funded by a safe housing grant from Purina, RedRover.org and the PetSmart Preserving Families grant.
- Berlin Green
- The interior of the new Purina’s Animal Care Center. Photo by Berlin Green.
Purina’s Animal Care Center is part of the Animal Advocacy Program, a collaboration between the Oklahoma Humane Society and Palomar: Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center to care for animals caught in the middle of abusive situations. Many domestic violence victims fear their pets will be left behind with their abuser or they may have to surrender them forever, preventing them from leaving or seeking help. The Animal Advocacy Program steps in to bridge that gap, providing temporary foster care, veterinary care, food and other necessities until the animals can be safely reunited with their owners.
“The Animal Advocacy Program was started because often those in crisis cannot leave their abuser because they don’t want to leave their pets … We wanted to be an advocate for both the human component of that situation as well as the animal component … We partner with the Palomar Family Justice Center to help. So when a client walks in and they need help to get out of a situation where their life is in danger, or their children are in danger, or they just need to leave, we offer their animal advocacy. We take the animals to help them be able to leave. Once they have left, there are several different avenues they can take. They can come back and get the animal, which we will care for up to 60 days in foster care. They can surrender the animal if they need to leave the state or can’t figure out a way to live with the animal. Or they can ask for our resources, and we help them get themselves and their pets back into a home. We pay pet deposits, we get them food, we get all of the pets vetted, spayed or neutered, and up to date on their vaccines, so they’re good candidates to move into a new property. Ultimately it’s just a tool to help get people out of abusive situations,” McCrory said.
The Oklahoma Humane Society employs an on-site Animal Advocate at the Palomar to provide on-demand crisis services. In 2021 alone, the Animal Advocacy Program served over 249 people and 518 animals. Since it opened in February, Purina’s Animal Care Center has already seen over 27 pets walk through its doors.
“It’s often overwhelming,” she said. “The stories are impactful. The lives are changed forever. And we know that they’ll be sad stories mixed in, but the good far outweighs the sad. We had a client come in with a small child and three dogs, and immediately upon coming into Palomar they deployed our animal advocate. It took three full months for her to leave, to find a new home, and for us to put the pets into the home with her. Once we got her reunited with her pets, she sent us a little note saying, ‘My family is complete. I don’t think we would have survived without this program.’ What made her really change and say I’m not going to stay, is her son growing up and protecting the animals from the abuser. She said, ‘I can’t have him protecting someone or something; I have to protect him.’ So the animals were the key to her leaving. She left everything but her child and her animals.”
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, more than 49 percent of women and 40 percent of men have experienced intimate partner violence at some time in their lives. The Animal Advocacy Program’s resources and help are available to anyone who needs them, but the client has to take the first step.
“The client has to come to Palomar for us to be able to help,” McCrory said. “It has to be a collaborative effort between all of the organizations in Palomar; we can’t just take an abused animal or an abused client that walks in. They have the processes, the safety, the police, the advocates, all under the same roof in Palomar, and we’re just one of a team that’s helping these clients move to a safer space.”
To learn more about the Oklahoma Humane Society’s Animal Advocacy Program or to help, visit okhumane.org/advocacy. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, visit palomarokc.org for help and resources.