Television personality Maria Menounos, left, at a Safe Voices shelter in Androscoggin County on Tuesday, promoting its new, pet-friendly features. Submitted photo

AUBURN — A Safe Voices domestic violence shelter in Androscoggin County will be the first in Maine to welcome pets along with abuse survivors, thanks to national organizations that teamed up to provide funding.

The effort to make the 17-bed shelter pet-friendly was capped by a visit Tuesday by television personality Maria Menounos, who has been promoting Purina’s Purple Leash Project.

That partnership between Purina and RedRover joined Rescue Rebuild of GreaterGood.org to provide $40,000 in grants to Safe Voices to transform the shelter into a place where abuse survivors can bring pets.

Volunteers from RedRover and GreaterGood.org work at the Safe Voices shelter earlier this month to install an outdoor dog run and other pet-friendly features. RedRover photo RedRover photo

Elise Johansen, executive director of Safe Voices, said survivors often tell staff members that pets are also abused. Johansen said abusers will often use threats of harm or actual violence toward animals to control their partners.

“We really wanted to make sure we were removing any sort of barrier or hurdle for anyone seeking safety,” she said Wednesday. “We hope it would make that transition into a shelter that much easier for them.”

The Purple Leash Project has a goal of ensuring there is at least one pet-friendly domestic violence shelter in every state by the end of 2020. After Maine, only five states remain.

Johansen said Safe Voices has allowed service and therapy animals for a long time, but the upgrades will allow pets to live at the shelter. Features include pet-friendly flooring, indoor shelving and bridges designed for cats, new fencing, a dog door and an outdoor dog run.

Menounos, a Massachusetts native, is an actress and television personality known for shows such as “Today” and “Access Hollywood.” Through her advocacy with the Purple Leash Project, Menounos was at the shelter Tuesday to lend a hand to some of the final work.

Hansen said her organization was excited to receive the added attention from the Purple Leash Project, as camera crews filmed Menounos’ appearance.

“I think everyone has a role in the work to end domestic violence, and to see her using her platform in this way is inspiring,” Johansen said.

Safe Voices, a domestic violence resource center serving Androscoggin County, has two shelters in undisclosed locations — one established last year as a safe house for survivors of sex trafficking.

The now pet-friendly facility is designed as a temporary shelter, but Johansen said Safe Voices works with survivors to locate safe, long-term housing.

According to Safe Voices, only 10% of domestic violence shelters in the country accept pets.

Rescue Rebuild repairs and renovates domestic violence shelters and animal shelters in need, and in collaboration with the Purple Leash Project provides grants to shelters so they can build facilities for survivors and their pets.


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