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NYC Gets First-Of-Its-Kind Shelter For Domestic Abuse Victims And Their Pets

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A coalition of nonprofits has partnered to bring unique emergency housing to a sensitive population -- abuse victims scared to leave abusive relationships for fear of losing their pets.

"There has never been a more important time for the domestic violence shelter community to open its doors to pets,'' said Nathaniel Fields, president of the nonprofit group Urban Resource Institute, which sponsors the shelter. "As we witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, pets are members of the family and no one should have to make the impossible decision to leave them behind during times of crisis.''

URI has created 10 pet-friendly apartments in a Brooklyn shelter for domestic abuse victims. The 6-month pilot program, dubbed People and Animals Living Safely, or PALS, begins Saturday.

"Across the country less than three percent of shelters allow for pets and victims of domestic violence to be co-sheltered," Fields told 1010 WINS. "This is a huge problem."

The group hopes to raise $250,000 for program support and expand PALS to three other domestic violence shelters in the city.

URI, which partnered with the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, said the apartments will include specialized cat-friendly screens over the windows as well as crates to comfortably house pets. Organizers said they'll start to accept cats and smaller animals such as hamsters, rabbits, birds and fish into the shelter. The apartments will eventually be soundproofed when dogs are accepted in September.

Experts said that about 40 percent of domestic violence victims stay in abusive situations out of fear of what might happen to their pets if they're left behind. They also said more than 70 percent of pet owners who enter shelters report their abuser has threatened, injured or killed family pets.

"Four years ago I was in an abusive relationship and at the time my dog Jasmine was only around eight months old," domestic violence survivor Muriel Raggi told 1010 WINS. "She would often put herself in harm's way trying to protect me and she would get kicked and she would become the target of his anger."

Raggi said she had to spend five months away from Jasmine after leaving the abusive relationship because they couldn't seek shelter together.

"There were moments when I felt like I had no one to comfort me and there were times when I just didn't want to answer questions about why I was crying or why things were so hard, I just wanted Jasmine to be there to provide affection and comfort," Raggi said.

New York joins 24 other states with a similar system for domestic abuse victims.

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