Original story by Emily Woodbury for NPR’s St. Louis on the Air podcast.
Here’s a sobering statistic from the animal advocacy nonprofit Red Rover: Only 10 percent of domestic violence shelters accept pets. That means many people fleeing abuse find themselves giving up animals with whom they’ve formed meaningful bonds. And sometimes, those animals themselves are at risk of experiencing abusive behavior.
UCC-related Lydia’s House in St. Louis is helping to change that. Lydia’s House is a transitional housing community that provides homes for battered women and their children for up to two years, free of charge, and connects them with resources to restart their lives. Recently, four Lydia’s House units were renovated to be pet friendly, and a dog park was added to the secure gardens in the complex. These pet-friendly amenities are thanks, in part, to Lydia’s House partnering with Purina’s Purple Leash Project. The Purple Leash Project works to help shelters and transitional housing programs make their safe spaces pet friendly.
As Karen Kirk, executive director of Lydia’s House, told Sarah Fenske in the NPR St. Louis on the Air podcast Oct. 4, “When a domestic violence survivor seeks to leave their abuser, they have to make choices.” The first is where to find housing for the survivor and his/her children. The second challenge, Kirk said, often is saving a beloved pet.
“Pets are a cherished member of the family,” said Kirk. Survivors often are concerned that if they leave, the pet will be harmed or killed — so they choose to stay. “We have to remove that roadblock.”
Lydia’s House resident Jill — and her 10-year-old lab mix Scarlet — are domestic violence survivors of the same situation. After Jill made the decision to leave her abuser, she could only find one shelter for domestic violence survivors that allowed dogs – it was in Kansas City and it was always full. Jill spent a year couch surfing, staying at friends’ and families’ places, until she found UCC-related Lydia’s House. Thanks to Lydia’s House, Jill and Scarlet are getting back on their feet again.
“It’s made a big difference for both of us,” Jill told an NPR interviewer. “To me, Scarlet is not optional. I made a commitment to her, and she and I are a team. So if I was going, she was going.”
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