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Domestic abuse shelters join Minnesota center in taking in victims' pets

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It's common for a domestic abuse victim to be reluctant to leave their home because they don't want to leave their pet behind, the American Humane Society says. Now, as a growing number of shelters start to accept victim's pets, the difficult situation becomes just a little easier.

According to the Humane Society, in many abusive relationships pets are used as a threat or a way to control victims. The society says 71 percent of pet-owning women who entered shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened their pets. Between 25 and 50 percent of victims delay fleeing abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets – battered women have been known to live in their cars with their pets for as long as four months until an opening became available at a pet-friendly safe house, the humane society says.

The Brainerd-based Women's Center of Mid-Minnesota has been trying to alleviate that problem for years now, it says, by either accepting pets or helping women fleeing an abusive relationship find a foster home for an animal. The shelter says it was one of the first in the nation to accept pets – for decades, the shelter has housed dozens of cats and dogs.

Louise Seliski, who started the Women's Center of Mid-Minnesota in the 1970s, decided to take in pets after a victim had returned home to find her husband had carried out his threat to beat her cat to death.

According to the Associated Press, more domestic abuse shelters have been starting to emulate the Women's Center's acceptance of pets.

"The pets that are normally a source of comfort in families can become targeted, particularly if the abuser sees that as a way to get the power or control they're looking for without inflicting harm directly on the child or spouse," psychologist Randall Lockwood, an ASPCA senior vice president, told the Associated Press.

Pets can also help a victim cope in these situations, according to many organizations. One domestic violence victim told the Associated Press that caring for her pet "gives her a sense of purpose in moments of doubt."

Animal welfare and domestic violence groups have joined together in recent years amid growing interest in connections between animal cruelty and family abuse, the Associated Press says. Those links have spurred about two dozen states, including Minnesota, to start letting pets be included in protective orders.

Pet friendly shelters have faced questions about whether animals are taking some focus and resources from abused people, though advocates say they're only responding to the priority some clients place on their pets, according to the Associated Press.

The Animal Welfare Institute's Safe Havens Mapping Project lists numerous domestic abuse shelters in Minnesota that either provide sheltering services for victims and their pets, have a relationship with an organization that does, or provide referrals to such facilities. Many other organizations also work to help victims find foster homes or shelters that accept pets, including: Minnesota Alliance for Family and Animal Safetythe Animal Humane Society and Saf-T Shelters.

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