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Program emerges to help pets in domestic violence situations


BEDFORD — When a victim of domestic violence makes the brave choice to leave his or her abuser, but has no permanent place to call home, he or she is often faced with a heart-wrenching situation: What will become of their beloved pet?

Thanks to a collaboration between the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Granite State residents who find themselves in this situation can find help from the Safe Haven program.

“People don’t often think of animal service organizations as true community service organizations…(but we want to) let our community know that we do more than just have animal adoptions happening here,” said Paula Mattis, president and chief executive officer of the Bedford-based ARLNH. “In keeping with our mission, (this program) helps both people and animals.”

Mattis said that most domestic violence shelters do not have the capability to take in their clients’ pets.

“The research shows that people won’t leave those (abusive) environments because of fear of what the abusing person ... might do to animals who are left behind,” she said. “We take care of the animals so they can take care of themselves, essentially.”

Mattis said ARLNH will typically take a pet for up to four weeks at a time, giving the owner time to get their affairs in order.

“We want to make sure that we’re keeping the relationship between pet guardian and the pet that we’re sheltering strong, because when you’re institutionalized — this happens for humans, but this also happens for animals — your whole world starts to change,” she said.

Animals who are cared for as part of the Safe Haven program are also placed with foster families. Mattis said ARLNH is always looking for volunteers to foster.

While being an animal lover is an important quality in a pet foster parent, Mattis said, people without pets are usually a better fit to volunteer.

“Some of the animals we take in can’t live with other animals,” she said. This is often because animals coming from abusive households have been abused themselves, and are prone to certain behaviors as a result.

The Safe Haven program is also available to pet owners who have to leave their homes temporarily due to illness, damage to their homes, or other factors, Mattis said.

Maureen McDonald, community relations director for NHCADSV, said her organization is honored to be partnered with ARLNH for this program.

“Victims often tell us that their abusers have made threats against their animals, so the fear of what will happen if those animals are left behind is real,” McDonald said in a news release. “This fear often is the main reason why victims will not leave an abusive situation. The Safe Haven program gives them the option of having a safe place for their animals, and the peace of mind of knowing they are being well cared for as they themselves move forward in their quest for independence and safety.”

For more information on Safe Haven, call 472-3647 or go to rescueleague.org.

cswanson@newstote.com


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