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Part 2: Pet Safehouse Program

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Studies have found that many victims are reluctant to leave bad situations for fear of endangering their pets. For the last decade, an animal shelter in Encinitas has been caring for pets whose owners have sought refuge from domestic abuse. KPBS Radio's Andrea Hsu reports on how the pet shelter helped turn one woman's life around.

The Rancho Coastal Humane Society is a happy place - with yellow walls, spacious kennels, and a very friendly staff. It's also home to one of only a few animal safehouse programs in the state.

That program was a lifesaver for Yvonne - a young Australian woman who turned to the program in 2005. Yvonne is cheerful - energetic -and quick to laugh. She lives in a cozy apartment with her two-year-old son Matthew - who's just finishing up with his bath...

Yvonne: Get out? Oes, you can get out! one to three, booey!

And with her 10 year-old-cat, Eddie - who's hiding under the bed.

Yvonne: Eddie - are you going to come out? Come on.


He's black, with patches of white on his hind paws.

But life wasn't always so peaceful. In 2003, Yvonne moved to California with her husband who was serving in the U.S. Navy. It was around that time that he began to abuse her. And by late 2004, her life was in danger.

Yvonne: One day when I was up in Riverside, he tried to run me over and I was pregnant. He would do a lot of threatening. He ripped the phone out of the wall - he'd push and shove - lot of holes in the walls in the apartment.

On bad days, she would lock herself in her room with Eddie the cat - and her two-year-old beagle, Baby.

Yvonne: Baby was amazing. She would sit in front of me and almost want to protect me. And when he'd leave, she'd lay beside me like she knew -- pet therapy.

The crisis point came just after Christmas. Yvonne was in the hospital - eight months pregnant and suffering from kidney stones. She and her husband had fought in the morning, and later, he called her from home. She told him not to come back until he'd calmed down.

Yvonne: He said I want to come down. I said please don't. He said I'm going to come down and I'm going to be armed. I'm going to have to hurt people to get to you. How would you like that? He came to the hospital. Got within 30 ft of room. He was arrested with three knives, can of chemical spray.

He was sent to a Navy brig - and then to civilian jail. She gave birth to Matthew in January,l and seven days later, moved from the hospital into a domestic violence shelter. But she did so only after she knew the Animal Safehouse would take her pets.

Yvonne: Even when I was in hospital, I wasn't going anywhere until I knew I could take my animals somewhere. It's almost like they're children too. I owed it to them because they'd been through everything. I'm sure they suffered through the yelling and screaming and everything else. That's scary for animal. Until I knew they'd be okay -- that was when I could clearly make my decision and go forth with what I decided.

Yvonne spent a month at the shelter - then a year in transitional housing, before moving to her present home, and getting Eddie the cat back from the pet shelter. Baby the dog remains in foster care, while Yvonne works on getting to a point where she can care for her too. When asked if she can imagine the day when her beagle comes home, she smiles... wistfully.

Yvonne: Gosh - I hope so. Yeah I do, if anything makes me sad, that does.

For now, she and Matthew visit Baby as often as they can. To this day, she remains grateful for the Animal Safehouse Program. And grateful to be alive.

For KPBS, I'm Andrea Hsu

(Photo: The Rancho Coastal Humane Society is home to one of only a few animal safehouse programs in the state. Andrea Hsu/KPBS)

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