Thursday, June 19, 2014

The ties that bind

In the fall of 2011 my life was in a shambles. It had been blown wide open by domestic violence and the ensuing child pornography case. I was in the full throes of PTSD and walked around in alternating states of fear and numb disbelief.

It was during this tumultuous time that I went out on a routine errand and came across two animal control officers manning a makeshift adoption clinic. They stood in front of the entrance to Walmart, flanked by a folding table and a crate full of kittens. They asked me if I wanted a kitten.

I made the spontaneous, and somewhat dubious, decision to adopt and bring home two kittens. It was perhaps not the wisest thing to do at a time when my life was in upheaval, but as it turned out, it was fortuitous.

The kids fell head over heels for the cats. Their kitten antics brought a levity and joy to our household that had been sorely missing. It was like the clouds parted just a bit and allowed the sunlight to pour in.

The kids loved them in the rough and tumble way kids do -- they hugged them and dressed them in doll clothes and rocked them in the crooks of their arms. The kittens were tolerant of all of it but I half expected, as they got older, they would begin to give the children a wider berth in the interests of self-preservation and dignity.

What happened instead, surprised me. The female cat, Lulu, became closely bonded with my daughter and the male cat, Sebastian, did the same with my son. They stuck with them like glue.

I would often get up during the night and walk the halls. I was too anxious and frightened to sleep. Every car passing by, every creak of the house settling, would put me on high alert. I would walk down to the kids’ rooms and look in on them. Every night – every single night – the cats would be sitting there on the foot of their beds, like sentries.

One night, it struck me. They were watching over my kids. They knew. Somehow, in their cat senses, they knew. My eyes welled up with tears of gratitude for these two protective souls. I began to think of them as guardian angels sent here to help my children navigate this difficult journey.

In May of 2012 things had escalated to the point where I felt we had to leave our home to ensure our safety. I still remember the panic I felt when I had to try to sort out not only a safe place for us, but one for our pets as well. I was fortunate in that the family who took us in was gracious enough to also take in our cats. A neighbor took in the kids’ goldfish.

However, only a couple weeks into our stay in our new “home”, my ex-husband found us. I will never forget the drop of my stomach when I was told that his car was idling out front of the home. By the time the police arrived, he was gone.

The result was that we had to leave again. We were fortunate to find a new safehome, but this time we were not able to bring the cats with us. Sebastian and Lulu stayed behind, in the care of a friend. It felt like an amputation and we all mourned the lack of their presence in our daily lives. I remember my kids, curled up asleep at night, and the empty space at the foot of their beds.

Two years have gone by since then -- two years that feel like a lifetime. Since then, I have learned quite a bit about the connection between pets and domestic violence. I know, for instance, that almost half of pet-owners will delay or refuse to leave a violent relationship because they are unwilling to leave behind a pet. I know that for some, this decision proves fatal.

Many of you know I now work for a domestic violence services agency. I don’t talk a lot about it here on my blog, because I want to keep my professional life separate from my blogging life.

I work for an agency that provides services to several thousand victims every year.  We get calls to our hotline all the time from women who want to leave an abusive situation, but don’t want to leave behind their pets. It has helped me to see that my situation was not an exception, but is unfortunately an all too common dilemma.

Because this is such a significant unmet need, our agency has made the decision to build an on-site pet shelter so that women and children who have to flee their homes can bring their pets with them. It is a big undertaking, but a necessary one, we believe.

For the past several months I have been immersed in the planning of the new pet shelter. And for the past week, I have been working furiously, with the help of some talented colleagues, to prepare for the launch of a crowd funding campaign to help raise money to build the facility. It has been a bit like birthing a baby -- intense, nerve-wracking, but very exciting. I have all fingers and toes crossed that the campaign will be successful.

Today, I am stepping across the invisible boundary that separates work from blog, and I am sharing with you the results of that labor. I want to share it because, despite the fact that this is a professional endeavor, it is also a deeply personal one for me. My heart is invested in this.

On our site, there is a short video that gives some information on the connection between violence and pet ownership. You may recognize one of the stories (and a few of the faces) in the video. If you would like to support the campaign, that would be wonderful, but please don’t feel a sense of obligation. More than anything I want to simply share what has been an immensely gratifying project.

You can find the campaign and video here.

It is my hope that this pet shelter will help families, just like mine, who have felt the impossible bind of having to choose between love and safety. It is my prayer that it will offer comfort, safety and hope to those whose lives are impacted by abuse and violence.






Note: If you are yourself needing refuge, please contact a local or national domestic violence hotline for information about shelters in your area. A small percentage of shelters can accommodate pets, but even those that do not can help you locate resources to keep your pets safe while you are in transition.

If you choose to donate to the cause or share the campaign, please know that the funds go 100% to build the pet shelter and in no way impact my job or my compensation.











18 comments:

  1. I'll donate as soon as I can, I have shared the fundraising site on my facebook.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your support. x

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  2. We got Shiraz when the baby was 11 days old, it was one of those meant to be things. I pity her when the baby starts moving as he will not leave her alone!! She has been an awesome addition to the family. I shared a picture the other day of a double pram I am supposed to be selling but can't as it is now her bed!!
    I donated a little amount. xx

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    1. Ann, thank you so much for your support. I'm very grateful. I love that the kitty has made her bed in the pram. That would be a cute photo op!

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  3. You. Are. Amazing!
    Just to think of this...then to act on it. Happy to support.
    x

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    1. Thank you, Beth. I appreciate your support and your kind words. xx

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  4. Fabulous. This is such a good, worthwhile and potentially life saving idea. I hope you are as proud of yourself as we are of you.

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    1. I'm just one of many people who are involved in the project, but thank you. xx

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  5. This is such a wonderful undertaking and I hope that you are able to raise all the money you need. I grew up in a home where my father would take out his vengance on our pets when he couldn't on us. He killed or tortured so many of our pets. It is heartwarming to see that the animals who are in households where domestic violence happens are being cared about as well.

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    1. Oh Samantha, that is so sad. How horrible for you. I'm sorry that was your reality. I, too, am glad that more shelters are beginning to recognize what a need this is.

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  6. What a fantastic idea! I also stayed longer for the pets, and in the end I had to leave them behind... Hardest thing ever!

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  7. The cat god has a place for you in cat heaven.

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  8. Hey

    It's Manda. I read your website for the first time way, way back, and your article 'read this if nothing else' made me question a couple of worrying things in my relationship. And you were lovely enough to write to me and tell me things could get better.

    Just wanted you to know my son and I finally moved on safely =) Broke but free. Wobbly sea legs, but free. And it's a big sky to fly in. Donated to your cause, it's a really good one. Thanks for all your help. Keep being good people. xxx

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    1. Manda, how lovely to hear from you and know you are doing well!! I've wondered from time to time how you had gotten on. Starting over is hard (I know), but freedom is priceless. And thank you for the donation. I really appreciate it.

      I have sent an email to (what I think is) your email address. Let me know if you get it.

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  9. What a wonderful cause! I'm in a difficult marriage with a lot of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go moments, partly due to my son, partly due to our dogs, and partly due to what-if (what will he do when it's final?). Part of my decision to move forward with leaving is due to your blog; that is to say, your bravery. Thanks, Kristin!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anon, wow, thank you for sharing. Leaving is complex and scary and difficult, but if you're relationship is abusive or draining, it is so worth it. I wish you all the strength and good fortune in the world for a positive outcome. x

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