Madison County is establishing a program that will offer the pets of domestic violence victims a place to put their paws, according to a press release.
“We know pets are part of our family and too often they become a tool in a domestic violence situation,” chairman Kurt Prenzler said. “We want to be able to assist those who want to escape, but often don’t because they don’t want to leave their pets behind.”
Madison County will offer space at its Animal Care and Control Facility, free of charge, for those looking to escape their violent relationship and needing a place to board their pets. The county will also have fostering available for the animals.
Although the Illinois Domestic Violence Act offers some protections to victims for their pets, the Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS), which was signed as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, expands those protections.
PAWS aims to protect victims of partner violence from trauma caused by the mistreatment of their pets. The act creates a federal grant program to help domestic violence programs assist clients in finding shelter for their pets when they leave their abusers.
Through its grant program, PAWS aims to support the construction and operating expenses of new or existing pet shelter and housing. It also supports short-term shelter and housing assistance, such as expenses incurred for the temporary shelter, housing, boarding or fostering of the pets of domestic violence victims.
Although some domestic violence shelters provide onsite housing for animals, such as separate kennels or facilities where clients can stay with pets, Madison County’s only shelter — Oasis Women’s Center, in Alton — does not. They do, however, help clients find a safe haven for their pets.
Oasis executive director Margarette Truschel said the program the county is offering is an important step in helping victims of domestic violence.
“Many women won’t leave home if they can’t take their animals with them,” Truschel said. “They are afraid if they do leave their pets behind they will be killed and oftentimes they are.”
She said women put themselves at risk by staying because of their love for their pets.
“We are amazed by the generosity of Madison County by doing this for the women in need,” Oasis family violence prevention coordinator Tina Culp said. “This is one of the first steps in healing from abuse, to know their pets are safe.”
Prenzler said this law empowers survivors to leave a dangerous situation and to continue to care for their pet.
"No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet," Prenzler said. “We need to protect these animals so survivors can seek the help and safety they deserve.”