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Published June 17 2010

Safe Paws helps pets of abuse victims

People aren’t the only victims of domestic abuse.

A new Fargo-Moorhead area program aims to offer shelter for pets owned by abuse victims, so the furry friends won’t be left behind in the hostile situation the victims are trying to leave.

Safe Paws is a foster care network for pets while their owners receive shelter and assistance from aid organizations.

The FM Humane Society, YWCA Cass Clay and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, along with other supporters, collaborated on the program to fill a need case workers saw as abuse victims sought help.

Officials said abusers commonly use pets to intimidate, threaten or demonstrate power over victims. Fear of a pet being harmed can often prevent a victim from leaving the abusive situation.

“The incredible bond between an animal and its human is undeniable,” said Nukhet Hendricks, executive director of the FM Humane Society. “But it is that same bond that keeps (victims) in that abusive situation day in, day out.”

“We hear stories all the time about how abusers will hurt the dog or cat by kicking it or hitting it in front of the victim, so that she knows he will carry through on any other threat he has made,” said Greg Diehl, executive director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.

At the program’s kick-off Wednesday, YWCA Cass Clay Executive Director Erin Prochnow shared stories of women who recently sought help from the YWCA shelter but were reluctant to leave their abusers because of concern for the well-being of the pets left behind.

Victims won’t have to face that situation any longer because of Safe Paws, Prochnow said.

“There are options and there are opportunities if there is a woman or a family that is experiencing family violence and they have a pet and they fear for that pet’s safety,” she said.

Officials already have one foster family set up through Safe Paws, but they’re looking for at least 25 more animal-loving volunteers to build up the foster care network.

Those interested in becoming a foster family for Safe Paws can contact the FM Humane Society at (701) 239-0077. Information is also available on each of the sponsoring organizations’ websites.

Special emphasis will be given to ensure victims’ confidentiality in the Safe Paws program, Diehl said.

Victims and foster families won’t know the identities of one another, and pet ID tags will be temporarily replaced during foster care so the pet’s owner can’t be identified, Diehl said.

Safe Paws is primarily meant for cats and dogs, but officials said they’re willing to adapt if a victim needs a temporary home for a different kind of pet.


For more information on the Safe Paws program – including how to volunteer – log on to:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541