County Passes Bill To Helps Pets Of Domestic Violence Victims

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Suffolk County has reestablished a Safe Pets and Families Program for victims of domestic violence and their pets.

The County Legislature voted unanimously on the measure last week, which allows the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to find temporary shelters for pets when a spouse or other family member is displaced due to violence in the home.

The temporary facilities at which victims of domestic violence often stay usually do not take in pets, and very often owners are forced to surrender their cats, dogs or other companion animals for good, or take the chance of leaving them with an abuser.

With this revived program, the SPCA will arrange for the temporary placement of these life companions at no-kill shelters and animal rescues throughout Suffolk County for a period of 90 days, at no cost to the county, until their owners can retrieve them and bring them back home or to a permanent and safe living arrangement.

Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Colleen Merlo said that the program helps many victims who would otherwise not seek emergency housing to avoid leaving their pets behind, and instead stay in a dangerous relationship.

“We’ve unfortunately worked with clients whose pets have been murdered by the abuser,” Ms. Merlo said on Friday of situations where pets are left in violent homes after the victims leave for a safe shelter. “It’s horrible. It’s appalling that any human being would hurt an animal.”

Stephen Laton, chief of operations for the Suffolk SPCA, said that abused animals often come from homes where domestic violence also exists. “The link is definitely there,” Mr. Laton said last week. “It’s a known fact. It’s widespread that people who abuse animals usually abuse people.”

Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, said that the addition of the SPCA, which will transport the animals, will be beneficial. She said that the cost of transporting the animals has been an issue in the past for Wainscott-based ARF, which would temporarily house pets for domestic violence victims, even when the county program no longer existed.

“What’s great about this is that we can join forces with Suffolk County SPCA and reach a broader audience,” she said. “Just having the owner know that their pet is safe relieves that stress because, as you know, pets are part of the family.”

The Safe Pets and Families Program was discontinued in 2002 due to a lack of funding, but was championed once again in July by Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who said that he was more than happy to reintroduce the bill.

“It was brought to my attention that it was a good program and should be reauthorized,” he said. “It was a worthy pursuit.”

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