YWCA Schenectady shelter plans to allow cats, dogs


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The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — Domestic violence victims no longer need to distance themselves from their furry, lightweight pals in order to get help from YWCA NorthEastern NY.

Cats and dogs under 55 pounds will be allowed to stay in the nonprofit group’s 20-bedroom Schenectady shelter by month’s end. The program is boosted by a $60,000 grant from the Purina- and Red Rover-managed Purple Leash Project.

In the past, abusers have threatened to harm pets in an attempt to keep or lure victims home, explained Wendi Gapczynski, YWCA NENY’s Director of Shelter, Advocacy, and Domestic Violence Education Services.

“[Victims] leaving their pets behind is probably one of the top five reasons why people stay in their homes in an abusive situation and that choice is obviously very difficult,” said Gapczynski. “When they come into the shelter, not only are they worried about what’s happening to themselves, but now they’re also worried about what’s happening to their pet companion at home.”

More than two-thirds of victims in shelters have reported abusers injuring, threatening or killing their pets, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Purple Leash Project aims to increase the number of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters from 15% to 25% by 2025.

Gapczynski first learned about the initiative about a decade ago. While YWCA NENY’s old shelter accepted service animals, it lacked the capacity for “companion” pets, which were temporarily lodged at the limited-capacity Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville.

Among a number of grant guidelines, YWCA NENY was required to hold additional capacity for pets. The group moved from a double-bedded to single-bedded facility on Washington Avenue last June.

“We have been looking at this for a long time and I’m very happy that we have the building now to be able to do it, that we received this grant, which is phenomenal,” Gapczynski said. “And I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am.”

Veterinary expenses, boarding costs, fencing and pet deposits for residents’ eventual transition to apartments, are covered under the Purple Leash Project. The grant is expected to last between two to three years.

The shelter can only take in two pets at a time and plans to provide capacity for 30 overall. Additional furry pals will be transferred to the Animal Protective Foundation.

While YWCA NENY can only accept cats and dogs for now, it hopes to eventually accommodate more animals. Heat lamp-required pets are prohibited by state regulations.

All of the shelter’s 12 staff members are expected to interact with animals. Employees have been trained to become comfortable with animals, avoid interaction unless permitted by an owner and navigate behavior as represented by a color-coded leash system.

Green leashes indicate a pet is friendly. Service animals are strung with purple leashes.

“Possibly with a red leash, maybe this animal was also abused,&#…

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