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If you have a pet at home, you know that pets are beloved family members. An owner’s love and devotion for their pet can be a beautiful thing to see, but if they’re a victim of domestic violence, that very affection could also put their life at risk.

Daytime talk show host and former NBC Today Show anchor Tamron Hall‘s sister was tragically killed by her abuser and now she has teamed up with Purina’s Purple Leash Project to help fight domestic violence by shining light on a subset of domestic violence victims who are often overlooked.

“Around 48 percent of survivors of abuse delay leaving their homes because they are worried about the pet,” Hall tells ESSENCE. “They’re worried that if I leave, will that abuser abuse my pet. If I leave, what happens to in many cases the one source of unconditional love that they receive day in and day out.”  It’s estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience some kind of abuse in their lifetime, many of whom also have pets they love at home. Unfortunately, the percentage of domestic violence shelters that can take pets is as low as 10%. 

“A lot of people don’t know that this exists, and it is a real problem and one that is not often discussed,” explains Hall.

May is National Pet Month, so Hall sat down with ESSENCE to talk about how near and dear the matter is to heart and why she believes it’s such an important conversation to have.

The risks for any victim in this situation are much higher. “That day a woman or a survivor decides to leave, that’s the most dangerous day they face,” says Hall. “Can you imagine? The abuser now knows that they are losing control. So, there’s the pet there. I’m going to hurt this pet if you leave. They will use the pet as emotional blackmail.”

Jeff Neira

“My sister, on the last day of her life, her dog, affectionately called Mini Me, was there with her,” says Hall. “And so, I am a from a family of dog lovers. Having now had a toddler, and seeing how I care for a dog, I know it’s not popular to say, but there are similarities. They are your children. They are your family, and it is important that we leave no family member behind.”

Having to choose between your safety and leaving your pet behind is a choice Hall believe no one should ever have to make.

“You’re not alone,” Hall insists, when sharing her plea to any woman who is a victim of domestic violence and feels like there’s no way out. “You’re not alone. You’re not a headline in the making. You’re not a story to be forgotten. You’re a sister. You’re a friend. You’re a mom. You’re a loved Black woman.”

“We are shining a light on this conversation that we’re recognizing the invaluable role that pets play in our life,” says Hall who has had pets her entire life and currently has a “very sassy little bird” living at her home.

“The goal is by the year 2025 to have 25 percent of the domestic violence shelters in this country equipped to take dogs,” Hall explains. “It’s not as if these shelters don’t want to bring in these fur family members; they’re not equipped in so many ways.”

Hall has a national platform that reaches millions and she’s determined to get the word out about what the Purple Leash Project is doing to help shelters get there.

“When I think about what it means, and this responsibility I have with this platform, I can’t think of a better way to use it,” says Hall. “Many people talk about domestic violence, and they should, and we do and we should continue. But it’s these little nuanced conversations that moved the ball forward.”

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