October 12th, 2022
By Savannah Verdon, Development and Engagement Coordinator
For those who haven’t experienced domestic violence, it can be hard to imagine the complex reasons people often feel trapped in abusive relationships. In many cases, a survivor delays leaving because they can’t find safe refuge for both themselves and their beloved pet – and not only would breaking this bond be heartbreaking, it could also be life-threatening for the animal left behind with an abuser. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re sharing Happy Tails from families who turned to the RedRover Relief Safe Escape grant program to flee abuse with their pets and begin the next chapter of their lives – together.*
All names below have been changed to protect survivors’ privacy
Like many survivors, Charlotte left a domestic violence situation in haste and only had time to grab a few things, along with her cats, Valentina and Lottie. She was afraid her abusive spouse would harm the cats if he knew where they were. A coworker was able to provide her cats temporary emergency shelter, but because the coworker lived in a small home with her own cat and dog, Charlotte’s cats were kept in the laundry room.
Valentina and Lottie had been Charlotte’s only safety net while she was with her spouse, especially after her 15-year-old dog passed away earlier in the year. Her two daughters lived in another state, and she couldn’t reach out to her family while she was in the domestic violence shelter. Charlotte wasn’t just upset that she was separated from Valentina and Lottie; she was worried about their health.
Both Valentina and Lottie were extremely attached to Charlotte – in fact, Valentina followed Charlotte everywhere she went. They were scared while living in the laundry room, and Valentina had been hiding much of the time to cope with the stress of not seeing her mama. Charlotte had gone to a domestic violence shelter more than two hours away so she could be safe from her spouse, but it also meant she was that far away from her babies. She was desperate to have them in a safe, stable environment nearby so she could visit them as often as possible.
Thanks to a Safe Escape grant, Valentina and Lottie were moved to a boarding facility much closer to the domestic violence shelter where Charlotte was staying. She had maintained her employment by working remotely from the shelter and was later able to relocate with both her cats – the outcome every survivor deserves.
This is what a Safe Escape grant meant to Charlotte, in her own words:
“It was such a relief to have my cats taken care of in a comfortable space. It gave me peace of mind that while I am living in a shelter, Valentina and Lottie are also safe and happy. This grant provided for my cats to have a nice space and caring environment, something that I would not be able to do for them on my own. I feel fortunate to have this paid for and to not have a huge bill to pay later. During these financially unstable times, this grant has been a great help for me and my cats. It means a fortune to me.”
Greta was an elderly victim of financial, emotional, and verbal abuse. She had been living with her adult grandson, her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend until it grew into a toxic environment. They had misused the money Greta had been giving them to pay the rent and utility bills, and now they were facing eviction. When a physical fight broke out between her grandson and her daughter’s boyfriend, Greta began to fear for her safety.
She felt mentally drained and her physical health had begun to suffer. Her only comfort was her cat, Pearl, whom Greta had adopted as a kitten after her husband of more than 30 years passed away. But the abusive living situation had begun to affect Pearl too – she was very protective of Greta and would act aggressively when anyone approached her.
Currently, only 15% of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to welcome the pets of survivors, and in rural communities like where Greta is from, the options can be even more limited. Greta’s compassionate and dedicated advocate from the domestic violence shelter had seen countless survivors remain in abusive situations because they had no other way of keeping their pets safe. So when Greta arrived at the shelter with Pearl in tow, her advocate knew exactly what to do.
A Safe Escape grant made it possible for Greta and Pearl to not only leave the abuse behind but also to relocate together for a new, peaceful start. From the safety of their new home, Greta expressed her gratitude for the second chance she and Pearl were given:
“This was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I had to board my kitty while I went into the shelter. My circumstances were very hard at the time and it hurt me to leave my baby Pearl. I realized immediately there was no reason to be concerned. Yes, I missed her so much but the staff at the boarding facility were absolutely awesome. They have a genuine love for what they do. All of the fur babies there are treated with so much love and attention. She could not possibly have any better care and I am so grateful for the love and kindness showed to me and my baby. And I am so grateful to RedRover who made this possible. Pearl and I are back together and I am so very grateful. I was so happy to bring her home but really had mixed emotions about taking her away from such a truly safe, caring and loving group of people! I do not have enough words to express my gratitude. Thank you sincerely.”
Sometimes, the urgency of fleeing or the weight of surviving domestic violence can make it too painful for a survivor to share their experience in their own words. When that happens, their domestic violence shelter advocate can step in to make sure that the survivor’s voice is heard.
This is the story of one survivor in Texas, as shared by their advocate:
“My client had four dogs since they were puppies. They had all been comforting and provided unconditional love to my client over 10 years of abuse, but the dogs were exposed to a lot of the violence that occurred in this family too. My client did not want to come into the shelter due to her care, concern, and emotional attachment to all four of the dogs. The dogs were also very attached to my client and it was extremely difficult for her to come into the shelter without them.
“On the day of the last incident, the police department went to the hotel where my client had been living. They took the dogs into protective custody and placed them in the animal shelter. My client felt assured that her dogs would be safe and taken care of while she came to the shelter, but she received notice from the animal shelter that the dogs would need to be picked up as the 30-day time period in the shelter had expired. My client became anxious and worried about the welfare of the dogs. She and I spoke and a difficult, painful decision was made to let go of three of the dogs and allow them to find good homes. She, however, wanted to keep Asher with her because he suffered some abuse from her abuser. She was not able to focus on the hard work she had to do while in the shelter because she was concerned that she would lose Asher too.
“Then a beautiful turn of events occurred and I was referred to RedRover by the local SPCA. I immediately began the application for my client to secure boarding for Asher. After multiple calls to businesses in the area, I found a boarding facility with two beautiful ladies who agreed to help. Asher remained in boarding with these two compassionate ladies until my client moved into her own apartment with the assistance of a housing program.
“My client would never have left her abuser had it not been for the assistance she received from RedRover. Those dogs were not just pets; they were her supportive family members who suffered along with her in an abusive, toxic environment. She was isolated from the public and had no normal human interaction for two years. Her only comfort and loving contact was with her dogs, and she had a special place in her heart for Asher. Her abusive partner used the dogs to control her and to force her back if she attempted to leave. Due to the Safe Escape program, survivors like my client can escape with their beloved furry family members who have played a comforting role in helping them survive. Those dogs were all she had, and she felt a profound responsibility to get them to safety if she were to get to safety.
“RedRover recognized the bond shared between a human and an animal. You helped me be able to help her by taking the stress away of where her dog was going to be placed while she was in our shelter. I saw tears of sadness and anguish turn into tears of relief and then joy once she was reunited with her beloved Asher. She is deeply touched and grateful. All sentient beings deserve safety and love, even our four-legged friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
As we work hard to ensure that at least 25% of domestic violence shelters in the U.S. are able to welcome survivors and their pets by the end of 2025, the RedRover Relief Safe Escape grant program offers survivors the immediate support they need to flee abuse with their pets, making a better future possible.
You can help us give more survivors a second chance with their pets during Domestic Violence Awareness Month by joining the Purple Leash Project. Together, we can make a truly lifesaving difference for domestic violence survivors and their beloved pets.