Christine Vendel | Domestic violence shelter also shelters pets

The Kansas City Star

A woman needed to leave her abusive home in Kansas City earlier this year, but didn’t want to leave her dog behind.

She couldn’t find a domestic violence shelter that accepted pets, so she lived on the streets.

That’s where she likely would have remained, if not for the opening of a pet shelter at the Rose Brooks shelter four months ago. Since then, she and many other women have been able to escape abusers without losing their pets.

Rose Brooks is the only domestic violence shelter in the region — and among just a few across the country — to have a stand-alone pet shelter. It even hired a pet shelter advocate to oversee operations.

The shelter, called Paws Place, has four large “state-of-the art” kennels built to lower stress and prevent the spread of disease. Each kennel, which is like a small room, is filled with homemade pillows, cozy blankets and chewy toys.

Right now, two toy pooches, a medium-sized mutt and a large dog live there.

Rose Brooks also accepts cats, although they stay in the main building to keep them separated from the dogs. The cat shelter is maxed out with two in “kitty condos” and two in kennels. Kelsey Brennaman, the pet shelter advocate, is researching ways to incorporate a free-roaming area for cats. She’s also constantly working to find foster homes for women’s pets, since the pet shelter is usually full.

We’ve had to turn away people with animals,” she said. “But generally, we’ve been able to meet the need.”

Brennaman is reviewing procedures and best practices to see if the center could double-up two smaller dogs in one kennel. She doesn’t want to have to turn anyone away.

More than 40 percent of domestic violence victims delay or refuse to leave abusive situations out of fear for their pets’ safety, she said. More than 80 percent say their abuser has threatened or hurt their pet.

It’s a huge barrier that prevents women from leaving,” she said. “We want to eliminate any barriers.”

The idea to become pet friendly came last year after a woman was attacked by her hammer-wielding boyfriend. Her Great Dane lay on top of her to protect her. Her boyfriend beat the dog and flung him off the porch. The woman fled but later returned with a police escort. She found her dog, J. Matthew, lying next to the house with broken hips and ribs.

The woman sought help at Rose Brooks but was told she couldn’t bring J. Matthew. She was prepared to sleep in her car, but Rose Brooks made an exception to its no-pets rule. Later, it added the $140,000 pet shelter to expansion plans.

The idea makes sense, but many shelters can’t afford the costs. Rose Brooks officials say they always need volunteers to walk dogs, and donations of money, food, toys or veterinary care.

Anyone interested can contact Brennaman at 816-523-5550, ext. 271, or kelseyb@rosebrooks.org.

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

Copyright 2014 The Kansas City Star.  All  rights  reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten  or redistributed.

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