Nationwide, nearly half of all domestic violence victims wait to seek help out of fear of leaving a pet with their abuser. For more than four decades, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) CHOICES has been providing a safe, secure shelter for victims of intimate partner violence in central Ohio. It’s the only domestic violence shelter and 24-hour hotline in Franklin County. LSS CHOICES serves nearly 2,000 domestic violence survivors each year, including 800 seeking refuge at the shelter.
Earlier this year, it opened a new shelter after a multiyear community campaign. The new shelter replaced a facility that was outdated, inadequate and often overcrowded. The 46,000-square-foot shelter increased the number of beds from 51 to 120, with capacity to add 48 beds in the future if needed. The shelter is designed to foster healing after trauma and is laid out in “households” to encourage interaction among residents. There are also several meeting and counseling rooms, state-of-the-art security, a secure outdoor playground and a healing garden for shelter residents.
LSS CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence has opened on-site facilities that enable domestic violence survivors to bring their pets with them to the shelter. This important initiative removes a significant barrier for victims in the decision to leave an abusive situation. And to help this initiative, LSS CHOICES announced an innovative new partnership with Columbus Humane to house pets of domestic violence survivors who are served by the shelter.
“Intimate partner violence is about control, and too often, abusers will use pets to try and force their victims to stay in their home and not seek assistance,” said Sue Villilo, assistant vice president of community-based services for Lutheran Social Services. “Not only are we providing a refuge for victims and their beloved animals, we also know having their pet with them encourages healing and offers many other therapeutic benefits. We are deeply grateful to Columbus Humane for their partnership and to the community for supporting this critical program.”
For the past 13 years, Columbus Humane has operated the Safe Haven for Pets program, temporarily housing pets while victims work to find new, safe housing. The program provides resources to an average of 50 animals annually, at no cost, and the average length of stay for a Safe Haven pet is 35 to 45 days, far longer than that of its adoptable animals.
The shelter’s pet area features indoor visiting rooms, outdoor play spaces, dog kennels and individual housing for cats and small companion animals. And it now provides staffing and veterinary services directly to the LSS CHOICES kennel, allowing pets to stay close to their owners in an area adjacent to the shelter’s living spaces while also reducing concerns about pet allergies or animal fears for those in the shelter’s survivor and family housing without pets. Prior to being admitted to the shelter, pets are evaluated to assure they are in good health and do not have any behavior issues.
“Columbus Humane and LSS CHOICES are long-standing partners, bringing our collective areas of expertise together to ensure safety for the whole family,” said Rachel D.K. Finney, Columbus Humane CEO. “We are grateful to be a part of this collaborative, lifesaving and innovative solution for families, and we are excited to serve as a model program for human and animal shelters around the country.”
Just 3% of shelters across the country accept pets, despite the fact that research indicates victims are often scared to leave a pet behind for fear their abuser will harm or kill it. In fact, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 48% of victims said they delayed leaving a dangerous situation rather than escape without their pet, and 71% report that their pets have been harmed or killed by their abuser.
Finney, and the team at Columbus Humane, know of the high correlation between human and animal abuse and often see firsthand how abusers use animals as leverage to control people who love their pets. Central Ohioans who witness animal abuse are urged to report it by calling (614) 777-7387. If you are in need of the Safe Haven for Pets program, please call (614) 980-2032 to speak with one of the Safe Haven coordinators and set up an appointment.
And if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or abuse in the home, please contact LSS CHOICES 24-hour domestic violence crisis, information and referral line immediately: (614) 224-4663.