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Some Texas abusers use pets to keep victims from leaving

For many Texans, their relationships with their companion animals is very special. They are part of the family. In fact, many people in abusive relationships don't leave for fear that their abuser will harm the family pet.

Those fears are not without merit. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, almost 75 percent of those who have escaped to shelters have reported that their abuser threatened or hurt their pet.

The problem is so serious that it has actually brought together Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and Katherine Clark, a Democrat, have introduced a bill called the Pet and Women Safety Act. The federal law, if passed, would establish a grant program to provide shelter for animals who belong to victims of domestic violence. Currently, according to legislators, only 3 percent of shelters for domestic violence victims accept pets. The sponsors of the bill say that many people stay in abusive relationships because they fear for the safety of their animals if they leave.

One Texas domestic violence shelter is already taking action to allow abuse victims to bring their animals with them. In San Antonio, the Battered Women and Children's Shelter is building a facility for victims' pets. Bexar County has one of the highest domestic violence rates in the state.

The head of Family Violence Prevention Services explains that pets are often victims of those who abuse their significant others, She says, "It is not uncommon that the perpetrator…manipulates and controls the victims by threatening to hurt the pet."

While no one should stay in an abusive relationship, it's understandable that victims of domestic violence don't want to leave any loved one behind -- whether two-legged or four-legged -- whom they believe will be abused. If you don't have a family member or trusted friend who will take your animal, ask the domestic violence shelter if they can recommend a rescue group or other place that will take your pet. Texas family law attorneys who help domestic violence victims with protective orders and other legal actions may also be able to help find a safe place for your animals.

Source: News 4 San Antonio, "Law could fund animal shelters for domestic violence victims" Laura Lea, Mar. 10, 2015

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