Paws for Peace Walk hopes to raise thousands to help domestic violence survivors, pets

Proceeds benefits Harbor House of Central Florida

Walkers at the 2018 Paws for Peace Walk in Orlando. (Harbor House of Central Florida, Harbor House of Central Florida)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Michelle Sperzel will never forget the story that convinced her to support pet kennels for domestic violence victims.

“A woman, she came in, and she was so worried for her dogs,” said Sperzel, CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida. “She had three dogs and she was worried for every single one of them, and so she kept in contact with the abuser and would call home to check on her dogs because she was really worried that he was going to do something. And he did. He killed one of the dogs while she was on the phone with him.”

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According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly half of domestic violence victims will stay with an abuser rather than leave a pet behind. Studies also show around 71% of victims who enter shelters report an abuser threatened, harmed or killed a pet as a means of controlling a victim.

Harbor House of Central Florida is one of only a handful of domestic violence organizations in the state to have a kennel on the campus of its shelter. The Paws for Peace Kennel opened in 2012 and has helped hundreds of animals since.

This Saturday, hundreds will walk to raise money at the 11th annual Paws for Peace Walk, happening at Blue Jacket Park in Orlando at 9 a.m.

Harbor House is hoping to raise $65,000 to help pay for the kennel and its medical fund for pets, Marvin’s Fund.

“Oftentimes animals are abused in domestic violence situations,” Sperzel said. “So we’ve had dogs come in with broken ribs. We’ve had dogs that have come in and they’ve been full of mats because the abuser won’t let (the victim) leave to go get the dog groomed. We’ve had (some) come in where the dog was pregnant because the abuser was planning on selling the puppies.”

While the animals that become guests of the Paws for Peace Kennel do not share living space with their owners, they’re not far away from them, and the owners can visit with their pets at any time. They can play with them in the small park, or sit with them on the porch and just relax with them.

Harbor House is expanding its facilities with an additional kennel run, an outdoor living room space, and an expansion for the popular cat room.

The expansion is needed. Harbor House cared for 31 pets in 2021 and 38 in 2020, the most ever, despite the shelter operating at a reduced capacity because of COVID-19.

“This program is absolutely life-saving for not just our survivors but also for the survivors who are family members, who are animals,” Sperzel said.

In addition to the walk, 22 vendors are taking part in the Paws for Peace event. There will also be a scavenger hunt and an off-leash relay course for the dogs, along with doggy tattoos and ice cream.

To sign up for the event, head to the Harbor House website.

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.