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'Pets Are Part Of The Family': Domestic Violence Shelter To Keep Victims & Pets Together

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BROWARD COUNTY (CBSMiami) -- It is the first of its kind in South Florida, a pet friendly domestic violence shelter, where the goal is to keep pets and families safely together.

"Pets are part of the family and are often the only source of unconditional love. Think about someone who's in an abusive situation," explained Mary Riedel, President and CEO of Women in Distress. "That pet might be the only source of consolation for themselves and their children so they're part of the family," she said.

Women in Distress is opening the shelter with the help of the Humane Society of Broward County. There is space for 20 animals.

Only 3-percent of domestic violence shelters in the country offer a safe place for pets, according to Women in Distress.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to leave the abusive situation because they don't know what is going to happen with the pets," explained Thelma Addarich-Lopez, Residential Supervisor from Women in Distress.

She said many times those animals are also violently abused.

"In order to affect the victim, the abuser, the perpetrator usually tend to also abuse the pet and by them having a safe place to have the pet with them, it's important, they don't have that extra burden of what is going to happen to my other baby," said Addarich-Lopez.

The idea got financial boost from a 200-thousand dollar grant from Bank of America, after looking at a simple concept.

"It's unconditional love that they give you and that's so needed," explained Sandra Juliachs from Bank of America. "We really kind of looked at that and said we have to support Women in Distress, we have to support this project. That was really the catalyst to start this project," she said.

This pet friend shelter should being opening in the next few weeks or so after all the training is complete.

Women in Distress asked CBS4 News not to disclose the location of the shelter for the safety of the residents.

If you are in a domestic violence or abuse situation and need information got to or call the Women in Distress 24-hour Crisis Line at 954-761-1133. 

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