I remember with bone-chilling recall the interview I did with a woman who called herself Shelly. Shelley Lovett* went to the animal shelter with her husband to rescue a dog. Little did she know, the dog she would adopt ended up rescuing and empowering her to take life and leash into her own hands.
What makes Shelley so different from millions of others who feel rescued and empowered by their dog? Shelley’s now ex-husband was controlling, manipulative and treated her as a prisoner, monitoring her movements, time spent on tasks, and gradually cutting her off from family and friends.
“From the outside everything looked perfect but behind closed doors it was a different story,” Shelley told me. “He would not allow me to answer the phone, check the mailbox, and if able to get online, he would sit next to me and check my emails, often dictating how I could respond.” Shelley was living her own worst nightmare.
Isolated and alone, she worked, but her husband took all her money, provided very little and still expected the laundry and shopping to be done. So why did she stay for six long years?
Shelley wonders about that to this day.” I think it was that feeling of security, having a home, although it was far from perfect. It was the fear of not knowing what to do, where to go, how to go about it, and also not having friends even made it harder. Because of him I had lost my job, as he would call non-stop to check I was there.” She saw red flags early on but chose to ignore them.
One day, her husband decided he wanted a dog. At the SPCA, Baby* came into her life. Although he ignored Baby, the dog became an outlet for Shelley. “She was my way of getting out of the house, going for walks and away from the abuse. By this point, I was a robot, walking on eggshells in the house,” she reported.
Knowing she had to get out, Shelley dreaded the thought of leaving Baby behind and what her husband might do. With careful planning and the assistance of a woman she met on her dog walks, Shelley left and never looked back. There has been no contact since and “the thought of speaking to him sends shivers down my spine,” she said.
Shelley found a wonderful organization that helped her find shelter. They took her dog into their own homes for a solid month while she got back on her feet. With the assistance of a therapist and the loving paws of Baby, Shelley found a new purpose and meaning in life. Baby became her service dog and the shelter opened their doors to her.
Baby passed away suddenly from IMHA, an immune disorder, in 2010. Shelly’s social worker at the time told her, “Baby came into your life when you both needed each other, she now knows you are safe so she has moved on, it is her way of saying it’s time to rescue a new baby.:
Three months after Baby passed, Shelly rescued Layla from the Carson Shelter. Because of what Shelly has been through, she formed and launched www.Auction4PetSupplies.com , a site for people to sell whatever pet stuff is lying around the house; a portion of the profits helps rescue organizations.
In recent years, researchers have documented a strong connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. Abusers harm or threaten to harm animals for different reasons, including: power, control, terrorizing or scaring their victims, or even threatening to kill the family dog should the victim leave.
Shelley’s advice to other women in similar situations? “It’s scary and hard, but we only live once and deserve to live happily, free of abuse. Take that first step forward. Life is like a puzzle and each piece will fall into place.”
Noah’s Animal House
One of the highlights of my year was learning about Noah’s Animal House in Las Vegas. Las Vegas was one of the first cities in the United States to address this important barrier facing victims of domestic violence. Noah’s Animal House was built on the grounds of The Shade Tree shelter in 2007 to provide safety, shelter & support for the pets of the clients of The Shade Tree. One of the women who was directly affected by the services of Noah’s Animal House addressed folks at the Meet the Rescues event during the BlogPaws Conference. By her side stood a Rottweiler mix. She reported how Noah’s Animal House saved her and accepted her dog when she sought residence there.
According to Staci Columbo Alonso, Founder of Noah’s Animal House @ The Shade Tree Shelter, every 15 seconds, a woman is battered by her partner in the United States. People who have never been involved in an abusive relationship, often ask the simple question – why don’t they just leave? The answer is complex. Many battered women lack the financial resources & emotional support to flee their abuser. Somehow they convince themselves that this is the life they deserve, this is their only choice. Their confidence is so beaten down from the verbal abuse – that they no longer believe they are worthy of freedom & a happy life. Often, the inability to leave is expanded to include family members; especially those sometimes forgotten – the family pet. In attempt to exercise power & control, the abuser threatens to harm or kill the family pet when the victim attempts to flee. In a national survey, 85% of women seeking safety in a domestic violence shelter reported pet abuse in their home.
The domestic violence victims that arrive on the doorstep of Shade Tree with their children & their pets are some of the strongest women the folks at Noah’s Animal House founder has ever met. With their confidence shattered because of the cruel mental & physical abuse by someone they loved and trusted – they still had the courage to move forward by taking this first step to freedom. It has been their pleasure to provide them with our service of care, protection & shelter for their four legged family members while they focus on themselves.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, pets are often the silent victims of domestic abuse. If there is a safe haven for you but you can’t bring your animal, be aware that some animal shelters will temporarily house animal victims. Follow this link at Noah’s Wish to read more about the animals and women helped at the center: Noah’s Animal House.
During the holiday season, keep in mind those who are going through struggles and consider donating your time and/money to help someone in need at a domestic violence place of refuge and safety.
*Names changed to protect privacy of the indivduals.