Reno Women's Shelter Now Housing Pets Of Survivors

Feb 5, 2018


When Nicole was escaping a physically abusive relationship, leaving behind her dog was not an option. Not only would she miss her dog deeply, she knew her abuser may also hurt the dog. 

"One evening, my ex came in and ended up pulling a knife on me," she said. "And my dog's barking. [The] growl that she let out was literally what kind of snapped him back, too. And he eventually left. And I think if that dog had not let out that bark, that I may not still be here today." 

Nicole isn't her real name, and revealing her name may put her in danger.

Right now, Nicole's dog is staying at a friend's apartment while she is living at the Domestic Violence Resource Center's emergency shelter in Reno.  

This week, the DVRC is opening a facility called "Noah's" to accommodate up to 36 animals near the emergency shelter. This gives survivors of domestic violence immediate access to their animals. 

Noah's Founder Staci Alonso poses outside of the facility's dog kennels.
Credit Bree Zender

Noah's Founder Staci Alonso said she was inspired because of experiences she had interacting with survivors while serving as a board member of a women's shelter in Las Vegas. 

"There was a 19-year-old woman who had the courage to come," Alonso said. "She had a garbage bag and she had a cat carrier. And when she learned that she couldn't bring her cat into the facility, she was going back." 

Alonso said it was common for survivors to return to a dangerous situation because they didn't want to leave their pets behind. A national survey from the Center for Women and Families said more than 70 percent of women seeking safety who have animals report pet abuse in their home as well. 

Alonso modeled this facility after the one she opened in Las Vegas in 2007. At the time, it was the first of its kind in the nation, and it's still uncommon. 

Denise Yoxsimer directs the DVRC. 

Denise Yoxsimer is the director of the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Reno.

"So what we want to do as a Domestic Violence Resource Center is to remove as many obstacles and hurdles to leaving as possible," Yoxsimer said. 

She and Alonso have been developing this program for the past three-and-a-half years. 

"We know that children are an obstacle and a hurdle to leaving in some cases," Yoxsimer said. "We know that pets are. We know that financial insecurity is. All of those things work together to create doubt in the minds of survivors who are trying to consider fleeing a dangerous situation." 

Yoxsimer said interaction with animals is also an important part of the recovering process for a lot of survivors.  

"For all the reasons that we love and take comfort from our pets at home, the individuals that we serve who are going through this kind of trauma also appreciate the healing power of pets," she said. 

The new facility includes an exam room for pet care, a feline sun room, several kennels, a dog bathing station and a small yard for dogs to get some space.  

But for Nicole, the survivor we heard from earlier, this is about much more than convenience. 

"Many times, women or people who have suffered through these types of situations end up living without the same support systems because the abuser separates us. And, so, your pet becomes so much more important in your life. And having to surrender or not have the support of that pet can be really detrimental." 

She said having her dog nearby is bringing a missing piece of her life back. 

You can find more information about the Domestic Violence Resource Center here.