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After Jennifer Andrus was shot last month in Millcreek, allegedly by her estranged husband, a Utah nonprofit stepped in to take care of her pets.
Nuzzles & Co. a private Summit County-based no-kill organization formerly called Friends of Animals Utah is housing Andrus' two German shepherds and a cat as part of its Purple Paw program, which is designed to help abuse victims flee domestic violence.
Kathleen Toth, president of the group's board of directors, said shelters for domestic-violence victims are not equipped to take animals, and a study showed that more than half the women in abusive situations will not leave if they cannot take their pets with them.
Under the Purple Paw program (purple is the color that represents domestic-violence awareness), the animals are placed with foster families until their owners find new housing and are back on their feet. The program is funded with private donations.
"We keep animals safe and sound until they can reclaim them," Toth said.
Andrus had filed for a protective order against her husband, 37-year-old Valentin Dulla Santarromana, on Aug. 17. A hearing in the protective-order case had been set for Aug. 31 in 3rd District Court.
On Aug. 22, Andrus went with a friend, Jai Hogue, to Santarromana's house near 700 East and 3300 South to pick up some of her belongings. The women, both 42, did not expect the husband to be there, according to Unified Police Department Lt. Lex Bell.
Hogue waited in the car, Bell said, while Andrus went inside the home, where she was confronted by Santarromana. He said when Hogue heard some kind of commotion, she ran toward the door and was shot multiple times outside the home.
Santarromana barricaded the house, turned on the gas in a possible attempt to spark an explosion and held his wife hostage for about three hours, Bell said. Santarromana allegedly opened fire when a SWAT team entered the home. He shot Andrus four times before surrendering.
Andrus, who lost an eye and was wounded in her legs and an arm, did not suffer any brain damage despite being shot in the head, and is recovering, Bell said. Hogue was hit in the head and lungs and has a severed spine; her condition has been alternating between extremely critical and critical.
A few hours after the standoff ended, Andrus' relatives asked Nuzzles & Co. for help with the two dogs. The organization picked them up right away, Toth said. Then, on Wednesday, a relative called again to report that a hazmat team cleaning the home had found Andrus' cat inside. The feline then was picked up, too.
The three pets will remain in foster homes, Toth said, until Andrus is ready to take them back.
Nuzzles and Co. launched its Purple Paw program in August 2012 and since then has sheltered 87 animals, including a ferret. Sometimes, the cat or dog will stay in a foster home for months before being returned to the owner, and occasionally the animal is relinquished for adoption.
Toth said just a little help can keep a pet in the family.
In one case, a domestic-abuse survivor found a new place to live but was devastated because she could not afford the $500 pet deposit. Purple Paw came through with the money and reunited the family's Shih Tzu with the woman and her young daughter.
"So often, women and children going through this situation have lost everything," Toth said. "There's an incredible need for our program."
Keri Jones-Fonnesbeck, chief program officer for YWCA Utah, which offers shelter and services to women and children who have experienced abuse and violence, said Purple Paw is a valuable resource.
"It has definitely been my experience that there are victims of domestic violence who are reluctant to leave because of a beloved pet," she said, citing an incident in which an abuser was hurting an animal to show what he was capable of doing.
"Children who have to listen to the abuse or witness the abuse can be incredibly traumatized," Jones-Fonnesbeck said, "and animals can be a huge comfort."
Purple Paw coordinator Claire Desilets said abusers will do anything to threaten their victims, including harming pets a terrifying situation for women and children who have bonded with the animals. The fear of what will happen to an animal left behind, she said, makes victims hesitate or refuse to leave an abusive situation.
"The demand for our services is increasing all the time," Desilets said. "It's not an exaggeration to say the Purple Paw program saves lives."
Anyone experiencing domestic violence can get confidential help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or by visiting http://www.thehotline.org/.
What is Nuzzles & Co.?
Nuzzles & Co. is an animal-rescue and adoption organization in Summit County. Volunteers with the nonprofit, originally known as Friends of Animals Utah, take adoptable dogs and cats from shelters throughout the region and work to place them in forever homes.
In addition, the group operates the Purple Paw program, which helps abuse victims leave domestic-violence situations by housing their pets.
For more information, visit http://www.nuzzlesandco.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/nuzzlesandco.