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Thanks to hero dog, domestic violence shelter allows pets

The heroic efforts of one Great Dane continue to have far-reaching effects. And not just for the woman whose life he saved.

Last year, a young woman contacted the Rose Brooks Center (a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City, MO) after her boyfriend had beaten her — nearly to death — with a hammer. Space was immediately found for the woman at the shelter but there was one problem: She had a 110-pound Great Dane that she refused to abandon.

The dog had saved her life by lying on top of her during the attack, taking the majority of the blows. The heroic pooch sustained many injuries, including a broken hip and ribs.

How could the center refuse shelter for such a brave animal?

“Because of her incredibly dangerous situation we made an exception for her and her dog,” says Susan Miller, CEO of Rose Brooks Center, who made the call to allow the woman and her dog to stay.

Thanks to the Great Dane's presence, the Center has changed its policy to allow other pet owners in need to keep their animals.

“Since (the situation arose with dog), we created a mini pilot program to test the feasibility of keeping pets on site,” says Miller. “A small restroom in the basement was converted into a makeshift animal room, where one family at a time could keep their pet while they received emergency shelter services. It became abundantly clear early on that the incredible therapeutic benefit pets could have on a family greatly outweighed the cost and inconvenience of housing them. Over the years Rose Brooks Center’s crisis hotline has received countless calls from women who desire to leave their abuser, but ultimately decide to remain in their dangerous home because they fear their abuser will injure or even kill their beloved dog or cat.”

Because of a 300% increase in demand for services in recent years, the Rose Brooks Center was already in the early phases of an expansion when the young woman and her dog — who have since moved on to a permanent home — sought refuge. Their story prompted not only the change in policy, but also an addition of new animal facilities to the existing plans.

Construction on the expansion — which will see an additional 25 beds for women and children escaping violent homes as well as seven kennels, a walking trail and pet-friendly play area — is well underway. The animal-friendly additions will cost an extra $140,000, and the project is set to be completed in late spring 2012.

Other shelters and organizations across the country are also responding to the needs of pet-owners in crisis. SAF-T (Sheltering Animals and Families Together), launched in 2010, lists over 60 shelters that allow pets on site, providing a safe haven for both human and animal. According to SAF-T, up to 85% of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partner had threatened, injured, or killed their pet.

Pets of the Homeless (a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinary care to the homeless and less fortunate in the USA and Canada) reports that of the 3.5 million homeless in America, 5% to 10% have dogs and or cats. More information is available on their website, including a list of pet-friendly shelters.

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