I-TEAM: Pets used as pawns in domestic violence

Every year, more than 10 million Americans experience domestic violence. Many of those victims have pets and are forced to make a heartbreaking choice if they leave their abusive relationship.

The I-Team learned that only 15 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide are pet friendly and about half of all domestic violence victims will delay leaving their abuser if their pet can’t go with them.

Bobbi Creech calls herself a domestic violence survivor. She told News Center 7′s Gabrielle Enright that she currently lives in her car with her 10-year-old dog, Rex, and 3-year-old cat, Sabrina.

Creech and Rex are a bonded pair.

“We don’t leave each other. He’s with me everywhere I go,” she said.

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They have been together since Rex was a puppy.

“I can look in these eyes and they love me unconditionally. The men that I’ve come across, they just want to hurt me,” Creech said.

Living in her car with Rex and Sabrina was not a position she didn’t think she’d be in.

“I never thought I’d be homeless. I never though I’d be homeless with my pets,” she said.

Creech said she’s tied to find hotels that accept pets, but has come up unsuccessful.

The non-profit organization Single Parents Rock works to support domestic violence victims. CEO Denise Henton said she was working to help Creech find support and shelter, but admitted most domestic violence shelters are not set up to house animals. She said that often the only options for victims with pets include placing the animals with a foster family or leaving them behind.

“Most of the time, they are not willing to let their pets go,” Henton said.

71 percent of women in domestic violence survivors report their abuser threatened, injured or killed a pet as means of control, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The organization also reported 52 percent of survivors in shelters leave their pets with their abusers. 50 percent of victims will stay in abusive situations rather than leave their pet behind. The ASPCA reported that many as half of those survivors return home because their abuser is using their pet as a means to get them back.

“That’s my biggest fear, that they will go back to their abuser because they can take their pet back home,” Henton said.

Jane Kieffer, executive director of Artemis Center, said there is a high correlation between pet abuse and domestic violence.

“If there is abuse in the home, there’s abuse to the pets,” Kieffer said.

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Kieffer said her organization has a program called “Safe Pets.” It teams the Artemis Center up the Animal Resource Center of Montgomery County and SICSA. When there is room, the program allows pets that belong to domestic violence victims to be placed with a foster family for about a month.

“It’s not their loving family, but it’s a family that’s going to love and care for them for a short period of time,” Jessica Sullivan, director of adoptions and alternative services at SICSA, said.

Sullivan said SICSA took 300 calls about the “Safe Pets” program last year. It resulted in 22 temporary placements. She said what they are able to do now isn’t enough.

“The need outweighs the resources right now,” Sullivan said.

The I-Team found eight domestic violence shelters in Ohio that are considered pet friendly. None of them were in the Miami Valley, but that is about to change.

Harmony Thoma, counselor and community relations coordinator at The Family Violence Prevention Center of Greene County, said the organization received at $46,000 grant from Red Rover, an organization that works to keep animals and people together in times of crisis.

Thoma said the organization is planning to make their shelter more accommodating for pets. A contractor will start on a new design that will include seven pet friendly rooms, a family lounge with kennels and a large fenced-in backyard in March.

“It’s going to be a benefit. The humans are going to love having their pets around and they are really going to strengthen people’s ability to recover,” Thoma said.

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