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Pets get protection in domestic abuse orders

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- A lot of domestic violence victims don't report abuse or look for shelter because they're too worried about their family pet, said abuse experts.  But a new law is aimed at eliminating that concern by including pets in protective orders.

According to abuse experts, threatening to hurt the family pet is a way for abusers to keep victims from leaving a bad situation and it happens more than people may think.

"People have come forward and said 'I would leave my situation, I feel like I'm not safe or my children are not safe, but I don't know what about my animal, my pet,'" said Stephanie Karr, executive director at the Center of Family Violence Emergency Shelter.

To help domestic violence victims get the strength to leave their bad situation and seek shelter, a new law allows Texas judges to include pets in protective orders.

It's an effort Patt Nordyke with the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies has been pushing for the past eight years.

"We are in the process of setting up a database of shelters and foster care organizations that will take these animals on a temporary basis when the human goes into a domestic abuse shelter," said Nordyke.

Experts said knowing a family pet is safe, and having access to the pet, is therapeutic to victims and their children.

"You have something that you can hold or you can pet, and maybe it doesn't answer, but you can sit there and you can talk to it, that provides a certain amount of solace and it's very, very important," said Nordyke.

Along with animal shelters taking in pets, Nordyke said she would eventually like to see domestic abuse shelters start accepting pets.

"A small building adjacent to their property where the animals can be kept and let the families take care of them," said Nordyke.

Building a private pet shelter is something the abuse shelter in San Antonio is currently doing. But Karr said without extra funds and space that would be hard to do in El Paso. As far as bringing the pets inside, Karr said, "We have about 115 persons in our shelter today so to add 10 or 15 animals to that mix, especially when there are children around, would be difficult."

Karr said it's something they will think about for the future, but for now, "We will work with them to find a safe place for their pet, whether that's temporarily at the Humane Society or with the Animal Rescue League."

Karr said the new law, called Pets in Protective Orders,  is a step in the right direction and could help save lives.
 

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