For victims of domestic violence, planning to escape an abusive situation can be made much more difficult if there is a pet involved. Safe houses and shelters may not be equipped to handle animals at their facilities. Many survivors are faced with the dilemma of whether to leave their beloved pets in a dangerous situation, send them somewhere else to live or remain in an abusive environment.
“People would decide to stay in violent situations, even if we talked about boarding their pets in an offsite kennel. [If] they didn’t have their pet with them, they would stay in a violent situation,” says Jenny Davidson, CEO of Stand Up Placer, an Auburn-based nonprofit which operates a safe house for survivors.
“People would decide to stay in violent situations, even if we talked about boarding their pets in an offsite kennel. [If] they didn’t have their pet with them, they would stay in a violent situation.” Jenny Davidson, CEO, Stand Up Placer
Last November, Stand Up Placer was awarded $7,500 by Sacramento-based nonprofit RedRover to build outdoor kennels on its property. The nonprofit had already helped the shelter transition seven of its 13 rooms to accommodate pets by stocking rooms with indoor kennels, leashes, toys and flea treatment.
“Basically all the things you’d need for a pet if a survivor left in the middle of the night,” says Davidson, adding that 71 percent of women entering shelters say their abuser had threatened, hurt or killed a pet.
Anne* currently stays at Stand Up Placer’s safe house, but says she would have sooner slept in a tent if that meant getting to keep her dog, Sammy, with her. However, at the safe house, her dog sleeps in her room. “I would not have left if I couldn’t bring my dog with me,” Anne says.
RedRover is a national nonprofit that was founded in 1987 with a mission to help animals in crisis, which historically meant response to natural disasters, but has expanded in recent years to include animals living amid domestic abuse. Since 2012, RedRover has awarded Safe Housing Grants amounting to $477,000 to help domestic violence shelters and safe houses retrofit and accommodate pets. But of the approximately 1,900 domestic violence programs across the U.S., only 174 shelters currently accommodate pets in some capacity, says RedRover President and CEO Nicole Forsyth. Of that total, 73 shelters have received grants from RedRover.
“RedRover’s mission is to bring animals from crisis to care, but we also really feel like we can help people by helping their animals, and strengthen that bond between them,” Forsyth says.
With a $3 million budget and 20 person staff, Forsyth credits RedRover’s network of 4,000 volunteers for the nonprofit’s wide reach. RedRover expanded and relocated its office to Midtown Sacramento in December, and since 2012 has increased its grant size from $3,000 to as much as $20,000. RedRover’s ability to assist shelters like Stand Up Placer has meant a world of difference to survivors like Jones who, the night she left her abuser after 34 years, had time only to grab a few personal items and her dog Sammy.
According to Anne, Sammy is the one constant that has helped her through her personal crisis.
“He goes everywhere I go,” says Anne. “Sometimes I get so depressed that I don’t even know where my next breath is going to come from, but having Sammy [here at Stand Up Placer] is such an emotional support. He loves me and he needs me, and I need him just as much.”
* Identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the source.