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Domestic Violence Shelter Adopts Pet-Friendly Policy

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TWC News: Domestic Violence Shelter Adopts Pet-Friendly Policy
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One city domestic violence shelter has opened its doors to an often overlooked member of the family. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Four years ago, Muriel Raggi escaped with her then-infant daughter from an abusive relationship.

"It was a really difficult time. Not only because of the events, but in terms of being in the shelter. You're safe, but you're alone," recalls Raggi.

Raggi wasn't allowed to bring her two dogs with her to the shelter.

"My rottweiler was around eight months old when we left and she often would get in between me and the abuser to try to protect me. And she would get kicked," says Raggi.

She was forced to find temporary homes for them through the help of the Mayor's Alliance for New York City's Animals.

"At night, I would think about all of the things I had to do. How do I make sure we're safe? And those were the times when I really wished that I had my dogs with me to just comfort me and provide raw affection," says Raggi.

Keeping that in mind, the Urban Resource Institute has partnered with the alliance to create the PALS program: People and Animals Living Safely.

"If they have to choose to go into a shelter and leave their pet with someone else, they're probably gonna stay in that abusive relationship longer. The national studies have shown that. That over 40 percent of individuals will not leave. We know that people won't leave," says Urban Resource Institute President Nathaniel Fields.

It's a pilot program with 10 units opening up this June. It's also the first co-sheltering program in the city.

"Whole families need to be together in order to heal. So pets are part of that family," says Fields.

The Alliance made the apartments pet-friendly, with litter boxes, window screens, toys, food and crates.

"At least in domestic violence, they're the silent victim. I think that they're targeted first often in these kind of situations," says Mayor's Alliance for New York City Animals Social Worker Jenny Coffey.

For now, the URI-PALS shelters can accommodate small animals including gerbils, birds, and cats. In December they will start taking in dogs and the hope is that at some point all URI shelters will be pet friendly.

Raggi encourages people take advantage of the new service.

"Don't wait to seek help. There is time. The time is now to go get help," says Raggi.

Raggi is now studying to be a lawyer, and advises those in danger to prepare a go-bag for their family and their pets.

She also suggests getting orders of protection for themselves and the animal.

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