ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A mission seven years in the making became a reality Thursday when Harbor House of Central Florida opened their Paws for Peace kennel.
Now, those in abusive relationships who seek refuge at the shelter will be able to take their pets with them.
"I walked in here with a board and a staff that had a dream; they wanted to build a campus so that absolutely no one who called us would be turned away," said Harbor House director Carol Wick.
Now, she said, no woman will have to choose between her pet and shelter.
"This building takes down one more barrier, one more element of control from domestic abusers," said Wick.
Mayor Teresa Jacobs skipped her prepared speech at the ribbon cutting and spoke from her heart.
"Years ago I had a co-worker who needed to leave a relationship. It took a long time for her to confide in anyone what was going on. She would come to work, clearly beat up," said Jacobs. "It was very difficult to get her to talk to anyone. And then she had kids, and she had a cat."
Also opening Thursday was a new storage facility that is already housing $150,000 worth of donations.
Harbor House officials said they desperately needed the storage space because each year they go through 2,000 towels, 1,800 diapers and 11,000 rolls of toilet paper.
"We didn't have any storage space. When you're sheltering 120 people a night you have to have a place to store the things to care for them," said Wick.
Wick said Harbor House is now caring for the most people in its seven-year history.
"That first year we sheltered 215 women and children. This past year we sheltered 1,000 men, women and children. And starting tonight, we'll be sheltering their pets," said Wick.
Nearly half of all domestic violence survivors say they delayed getting help because they did not want to leave their dog or cat. And nearly 80 percent had their pet injured or killed by their abuser, many times in front of their children.
MORE INFORMATION: Harbor House of Central Florida