Domestic violence can also be dangerous for pets. A Utah bill would give them more protections.


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On the armchair in Kristina Pulsipher’s office, the pillow looks exactly like Littlefoot, one of the first cats ever sheltered at the Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering, where Pulsipher serves as chief executive officer.

A man living in a van dropped off Littlefoot at the Salt Lake City facility, which provides emergency pet shelters, Pulsipher said. The man had suffered a life-threatening head injury and feared losing Littlefoot before finding Ruff Haven in June 2020, the same month the shelter opened.

Shelters aim to help all pets during a crisis, often assisting owners dealing with housing insecurity or medical treatment. But about 15% of their clients are victims of domestic violence, depicted in several scattered photos on the back wall of Pulsipher’s office. Ruff Haven allows survivors to board their pets at the shelter when they are trying to hide from their abusers – an uncommon service in Utah, a state with few protections for animals. raised like that.

“You hear a lot in animal rescues about how much we hate humans and how much we love animals,” says Pulsipher. “That is not our duty. We don’t say that here. … Our customers are animal rights heroes. “

And Pulsipher remembers it all.

New bill will protect pets, being ‘lifeline for many’

Domestic violence is common in Utah, advocates say. But the difference in how it is reported to law enforcement agencies makes it hard to get a complete and exact idea about its popularity.

In Salt Lake City, officers responded to 736 family offenses as of November 2021, according to to the data tracked by the department. While that number is lower than the 789 family violations reported for all of 2020, it is much higher than the 614.3 average reported from 2017-2019.

Liz Sollis, a spokeswoman for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said domestic abuse is often driven by the perpetrator’s desire for power and control over a partner. Pets can also become targets for domestic abuse – used by perpetrators to enforce rights over victims.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A cat named Smitty hangs out in the “Purradise City” cat room, at pet shelter Ruff Haven, on Saturday, November 27, 2021.

“They can take us hostage, if you want,” Sollis said of the perpetrators. “So if they know that the partner they’re abusing is having an affair with the animal, they can hold the animal back or threaten to hurt them.”

Earlier this year, a red-heeled person named Dixie was intentionally burned and was abandoned near Interstate 80 in Tooele. Police say a man set fire to Dixie to get back her owner, with whom he had a previous relationship. Dixie suffered second and third degree burns and had to be put down.

In July, another man was arrested after police said he lost his temper with his puppy and killed it at Herriman. A month later, authorities said a West Jordanian man – the subject of two ongoing domestic violence investigations – tortured, shot and abandoned A 9-month-old puppy was found off State Route 111. The Husky-mix, never found, is presumed dead, police said.

Pets are considered property under Utah law, Pulsipher said. If a person leaves an abusive relationship, leaving their pet at an animal shelter in the meantime, their abuser can claim the animal as their own.

Following Dixie’s death, Pulsipher is working with the Humane Society of Utah on a bill to change that.

“We realized that this was the moment where we could, unfortunately, take this terrible incident and hopefully turn it into something good,” Pulsipher said.

Bill, Dubbed “Safe Pets, Safe People” would allow pets to be placed in a court-issued protective order, granting them a layer of legal protection from abusers. Representative Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is funding the measure, which is still being drafted.

Currently, 35 other states offer such protections for pets. Romero, who considers pets part of the family, said she has witnessed situations of domestic violence where pets are killed by a partner. She is confident that she will find a companion on the other side of the aisle.

“Ultimately, this is about power and control,” Romero said. “This is about someone trying to take control of the situation. … And they know how important pets are to many people. “

‘Sometimes we just can’t let our pets in’

Even if the bill doesn’t pass, Jennifer Campbell, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said it’s important for survivors to include pets in their safety plans.

“If they are in an abusive situation and want to leave, their pet need not be a barrier to getting help,” says Campbell.

Campbell notes that service providers across the state are trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and animal abuse. Sollis also notes that survivors often rely on their pets for support as they grieve the loss of a partner they thought they knew and loved.

“Pets can be our best, closest and safest companions, right?” Sollis said. “They offer unconditional love; they are there for us through thick and thin. “

But in Utah, some domestic violence survivors shelters don’t allow pets unless they’re a certified emotional support animal — access is required by law. And the size of some shelters can make it difficult to accommodate all pets.

“It’s not because they’re a mean animal,” said Kristen Floyd, executive director of the Safe Harbor Crisis Center in Farmington. “[Pets] have also experienced some trauma, and they are triggered by loud noises or children playing in the common area. “

Floyd estimates that between 30% and 50% of people who arrive at Safe Harbor have a pet they want to bring with them.

Safe Harbor now allows animals to stay in residents’ apartments and has a dedicated outdoor dog boarding area. Sponsored Grants Expansion Will Finally Allow Floyd added that there is space for cats to board, but currently, not all animals can enter.

“Sometimes we can’t let our pets in the house if we have severe allergies, and that’s a struggle you have to deal with…” Floyd said. “You don’t want to negatively affect another resident trying to be there and be safe and stable.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kristina Pulsipher raises a cat in the “Purradise City” cat room, at pet shelter Ruff Haven, on Saturday, November 27, 2021.

Floyd said Safe Harbor works with the Davis County Animal Care Foundation to pay for boarding there. However, without a pet protection order, abusers can report to Animal Care of Davis County and request that the pet be released into their care.

“It’s a scary thing for the clients we serve: ‘If I leave this animal and leave to stay at the shelter, will my inmate find it there? , and go get it, and harm it. ? ‘” said Floryd.

Floyd noted that the shelter also partnered with Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue in Summit County, but that may be too far away for some residents. According to Floyd, people who are moving out of shelters may find it difficult to find pet-friendly apartments in the area.

In Salt Lake City, more than 20 percent of families living at the Young Women’s Christian Association have pets, said Priscilla Rountree, a spokeswoman for the YWCA. This nonprofit has a partnership with the Humane Society to provide food, equipment, and toys for the pets there, and works with the 4th Street Clinic in Salt Lake City to designate them. is a spiritual support animal.

Officials said the Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency in Logan and Seek Haven in Moab also allow service animals and partner with other nonprofit agencies to care for other pets.

Sollis advises anyone experiencing domestic abuse to call 1-800-897-LINK (5465). If a shelter cannot accommodate pets, Campbell points out that service providers will work with survivors to find temporary accommodations for animals.

‘We are not a traditional rescue’

At Ruff Haven, pet owners can leave their animals at the shelter for 90 days, but Pulsipher says pets often stay longer. Many of the dogs and cats in Ruff Haven’s care are placed in foster homes by volunteers.

The idea for Ruff Haven first started in 2019 when Pulsipher, Stan Stensrud, Marisa Hernandez and Kimo Pokini – all of whom had previously met through other charities – noticed a niche need in community about animal rescue. The founders modeled Ruff Haven after other establishments across the country that offer similar services.

Hernandez has owned boarding facilities in 1370 South and 400 West. After creating a space to take care of cats, named “Purradise City”, Ruff Haven is ready to go.

The shelter coordinates visits and walks so owners can spend time with their pets. Pet owners regularly send photos of the animals to their owners. Pulsipher notes that she often has to change the box of tissues in her office.

“These are people who don’t abandon their pets,” says Pulsipher. “Literally, they are sacrificing their lives to keep their families together. And that’s what people need to hear.”

This non-profit organization organizes clinics throughout the valley to provide veterinary care and health services, veterinary care, and pet vaccinations to people facing this condition. housing insecurity.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A cat in the “Purradise City” cat room, at pet shelter Ruff Haven, on Saturday, November 27, 2021.

There are usually between 50 and 60 animals at the shelter at one time, Pulsipher said, with about 25 new entries per month.

One of Ruff Haven’s first clients was a woman who turned in her cats while leaving an abusive relationship. Pulsipher says that woman eventually became a member of Ruff Haven’s board of directors.

“We are not a traditional rescue, because the pets have families,” she said. “They don’t need us to rescue them from anyone. We think our reunion rate is about 90%.”

Stensrud herself recently adopted a dog named Bella for a family at a homeless shelter. The family moved into permanent housing the day before Thanksgiving, he said. Returning Bella was a moving experience for him.

“It really makes you appreciate people and their struggles and what they’re going through and the perseverance they have,” says Stensrud. “Their pet really saved their life. It really gives them a human being who doesn’t judge them, no matter what situation they’re in.”

In the future, Romero hopes that “Safe Pets, Safe People” will give survivors “strength back” and help ensure that pets “will not be used as a form of sport.” needy”.

“This will give survivors peace of mind that they can get out of the situation,” says Pulsipher, “and know that if their abuser chases after them or their pet or something like that, they will. can call the police and there will be security there. . ” Domestic violence can also be dangerous for pets. A Utah bill would give them more protections.

Yasmin Harisha

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