Nuzzles & Co.’s Purple Paw program assists domestic violence victims
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and even though the month is winding down, there continues to be a need for victim advocacy and services.
Domestic violence, also known as intimate-partner violence, affects 1 in 3 Utah women and 1 in 5 men during their lifetimes, according to the Utah Department of Health. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control has reported the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased domestic violence incidents, with 16 lives lost in Utah between March 1 and Sept. 28.
One of the challenges facing domestic violence victims is getting away from their abusers, and sometimes the only thing preventing their escape is a pet, said Claire Desilets, Nuzzles & Co.’s Purple Paw program director.
Since 2012, Purple Paw, a free service, has taken care of domestic-violence victims’ pets while their owners seek sanctuary, Desilets said.
The program offers free pet fostering, training and veterinary care and rehabilitation, because many of the pets accepted into the program are also abuse victims themselves.
“Most importantly, we provide weekly updates about the pets’ well-being which gives survivors the peace of mind and the time they need to focus on their recovery,” Desilets said.
Nuzzles & Co. offers the service when it works with different domestic violence shelters and law enforcement agencies throughout the state, due to the fact that many pet owners will not escape a domestic violence situation, because they fear for their pets’ lives, she said.
“Abusers threaten to hurt or kill the pet if the victim tries to leave, and these are not idle threats,” Desilets said. “Victims hesitate or refuse to leave by fear of leaving their pets behind, which exposes them, the kids and the pets to further abuse.”
While most domestic-violence shelters in Utah now accept pets, they usually can only take one pet per client if the pet is well behaved, according to Desilets.
“Survivors can also seek shelter with friends or family, but that still doesn’t mean they can take their pets with them if someone in that home is allergic, or if there are already other pets there, or if there are pet restrictions on the leases,” she said. “That’s where the Purple Paw program comes in with its life-saving solution. We offer pets a safe haven while survivors seek shelter wherever they can. And we will take in all their cats and dogs, not just one.”
Nuzzles & Co. will also take other types of pets on a case-by-case basis, Desilets said.
“We were able to take care of a ferret at one time,” she said. “So we really try to do what we can.”
The Purple Paw program launched in 2012 with a donation by longtime donor Emily Scott Pottruck, whose friend was forced to remain in a domestic-violence situation because of her pet.
Since then, Nuzzles & Co. has assisted more than 120 survivors, and nearly 250 pets, Desilets said.
“By saving pets we save people, (because) Nuzzles’ Purple Paw program helps stop the cycle of violence, by removing kids from a violent home sooner rather than later,” she said. “It’s well documented that children exposed to violence are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems that can lead to criminal behavior as adults.”
In addition, a 2013 study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine found that children exposed to domestic violence are three times more likely to be cruel to animals.
Nuzzles & Co. Executive Director Lindsay Ortega is honored that her nonprofit can offer the Purple Paw program to domestic violence survivors.
“We are grateful to be part of the healing process to help improve the lives and possibly save the lives of those who are in a domestic-violence situation and their pets,” Ortega said.
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