Help needed to protect pets in abusive situations
By Kyle LoJacono
Florida has 42 shelters for people to flee abusive domestic situations, but only one for pets in similar circumstances – and it’s in Central Pasco County.
That one nonprofit animal shelter is L.A.B.S. Pet Rescue Center of Florida and has helped people from across Florida get out of violent households. It was founded by Diane Sleszynski and Gail Cooper.
“Everything we’ve heard from the shelters is that 25 to 40 percent of women or anyone in bad situations won’t leave because they are afraid for their pets,” Cooper said. “We also know that about one in four women are victims of domestic violence … So the pets become the tool for people to keep the victims in these situations.”
Rita Hampton works with one of the domestic violence shelters that sends victim’s pets to L.A.B.S.
“It gives those victims the peace of mind to go to a shelter knowing their pet is ok,” Hampton said. “So many have told me they wouldn’t have left without knowing their pet could go somewhere too … The other great thing is (L.A.B.S.) doesn’t have a time limit like a lot of places. We don’t have to bounce them from place to place.”
L.A.B.S. will take any kind of pet, including livestock when there is the room, for as long as the owner is in a shelter. The first pet rescued was a lab-mix named Bruiser. He went to the shelter Jan. 27 and stayed for 157 days.
Part of what L.A.B.S. does is rehabilitate the animals because most of them have been abused too and need to be resocialize them. Once the family is ready to leave the shelters they get their animal back. They only adopt out the animals if their owners agree.
“The shelters are great, but they just can’t handle the animals,” Sleszynski said. “We can take any pet and have had horses and other farm animals and have the training and facilities to care for them. So while the owners are getting help getting their lives back together we’re helping the pets get back together too.”
The two women are receiving more calls to help livestock and want to build more stalls to house them. They have the land, but need donations to do so.
Cooper has been around animals her whole life and was part of animal control services. Sleszynski was a psychiatric nurse who specialized in children. She also has first-hand knowledge of how devastating abusive situations can be to a child.
“Let’s say my father wasn’t the nicest man and he especially didn’t like our cats,” Sleszynski said.
Learning about Sleszynski’s past was the reason Cooper wanted to start the center.
“The more I learned about it the more I wanted to raise awareness about domestic violence and to let people know we’re here to help,” Cooper said. “People need to know that we exist so they can have a way out. All they have to do is have the shelter call us and we’ll be there that day if we need to be to take the animals.”
The two are on call with the centers 24/7 every day and take the pets to veterinarians for medical treatment.
While L.A.B.S. is constantly getting animals, it cannot help them all. The two women said police records show about one million animals are killed as part of domestic violence cases each year nationally and many more go unreported. Each told horrible stories about animals they knew that were killed by abusers.
Both women are fearful the abusers will find the center and come and hurt the animals or burn the facility, so they do not tell people exactly where it is. However, a reporter from The Laker and the Lutz News was allowed to visit the center.
L.A.B.S. has 50 cages for the animals, which all have access to the open air. The two women take all the animals out to get plenty of exercise on the land and wash all their beds and sheets each day. The constant washing has prevented any kind of smell from developing at the shelter and all the animals seem very peaceful.
Cooper and Sleszynski spend their own money to care for the animals. They do not adopt out the pets and therefore are not eligible to buy dog food at a reduced rate. They are a nonprofit and can write off what they spend on the center, but to continue their work and to increase their livestock facilities they need help from the community.
“We want to expand the shelter to help more animals,” Cooper said. “People can write off donations and they can know what they are doing is helping abused people and animals find a better life. Then of course the biggest thing is for people to know about us so (if) they go to a shelter they can have them call us and we’ll help their pets.”
The phone number for L.A.B.S. is (813) 704-0811. The shelter is also looking for business sponsorships.
Send checks made out to L.A.B.S. Inc. to P.O. 1014 Lutz, FL 33548
For more information, call (813) 704-0811
New Pasco County Animal Shelter hours
The Pasco County Animal Services recently announced new hours for the county’s animal shelter, located on Lake Patience Road in Land O’ Lakes. The change includes closing the shelter on Mondays because of budget cuts.
The new hours will take effect Aug. 8. The shelter will be closed Sunday and Monday and open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The shelter will remain closed for federal holidays.
Pet adoptions, animal surrenders, claiming animals and licensing will be done on these days and the following hours:
–Tuesday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Wednesday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Thursday from 12-6:30 p.m.
–Friday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Saturday from 12-4:30 p.m.
Customer service and field service hours will remain 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hour field services are for emergencies only.
For more information about animal services, visit www.pascocountyfl.net or call (813) 929-1212, (352) 521-5194 or (727) 834-3216.