Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announces a new Nassau SPCA...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announces a new Nassau SPCA program that offers free pet protection to victims of domestic violence who have fled to The Safe Center L.I. on Thursday, July 9, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A new Nassau program will provide targets of domestic violence with free protection for their pets once victims flee their abusers and enter a shelter run by a Bethpage-based nonprofit.

Through the new initiative, the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will care for the pets for as long as the victim is sheltered at The Safe Center LI, a nonprofit that provides services for victims of sexual and physical violence.

"Domestic violence victims are often reluctant to seek shelter because they don't want to leave their pets in an unsafe environment," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said during the program announcement in Mineola on Thursday.

Steve Laton, chief of operations at the Suffolk County SPCA, said it has had a similar program since 2000 in which the agency provides temporary housing for pets of domestic violence victims while their owners are in a shelter.

Mangano cited statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence that show that 71 percent of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their batterer has threatened, injured or killed a family pet.

In most cases, the pet abuse is committed for revenge, intimidation or to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship, said Sandy Oliva, co-executive director of Safe Center.

"Staying with an abuser puts every human and nonhuman animal in the family at risk," said Oliva, who noted that shelters for abuse victims usually do not take in pets.

The SPCA will bear the cost of the program, estimated at $30 per pet, per day. The agency will pick up the pet and take it to a private site for housing and veterinary care.

Once the victim leaves the shelter, they have the choice to either take the animal back or assign it to the SPCA, which would then try to find it a permanent home, said Gary Rogers, Nassau's animal emergency coordinator.

Officials for the Safe Center, which can house about 15 people, said they get two or three calls per month from victims who fear for their pets' safety.

Domestic violence victims can call the Safe Center hotline at 516-542-0404 for assistance.

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