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MIAMI (CBSMiami) —  Many domestic violence victims who consider their pets as part of the family are having to choose between their pet and their own safety. Not anymore.

“He killed one of my dogs – stomped him to death over sunglasses,” said a domestic violence survivor. “It got worse when he was beating my animals. It was either me or the animals. Unfortunately, I pick them over me and I regret that every single day of my life.”

This domestic violence survivor did not want to be identified. Her boyfriend beat her, killed one of their dogs and threatened to kill her second dog. She did not want to give up her pets so she stayed and had nowhere to turn.

“Nearly half of the people who are in an abusive and often dangerous situation have said they won’t leave. They’re fearful of leaving because they know a pet could be harmed or killed. This is a real barrier,” said Mary Riedel, CEO of Women in Distress in Broward County.

Riedel says they are partnering with the Humane Society of Broward County and Bank of America to create a safe environment for survivors to house and protect their pets while they are staying in a Women in Distress Emergency shelter.

Bank of America awarded Women in Distress the Neighborhood Builders Grant – $200,000 to help build the new pet shelter.

“We believe in building better communities for people, our associates, our clients, to work and live in and this is part of that investment,” said Lori Chevy with Bank of America.

Women in Distress receives more than 2,000 calls on their crisis hotline and houses 800 people in their emergency shelter every year. Some of those families have had to give up their pets, choosing between a family member and safety.

“It’s heart wrenching to know that an animal, which is such an important part of their family, and they can’t keep it,” said Kathy Tricomi with the Humane Society.

“Maybe if they if they had a shelter for dogs, I would have been out sooner and my other one would still be alive,” said the domestic violence survivor.

Women in distress has started planning for the new addition. They say they’ll be ready to take on families with their pets as soon as 18 months from now.

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