By Devon Krusko, Field Services and Outreach Coordinator

In my previous work in animal sheltering, I remember anxiously listening to NPR for a sponsored ad we were running to promote our work. “Caring for unwanted pets for over 100 years” came echoing over the radio and I remember thinking… unwanted… why are we saying that? The folks I encountered on a daily basis desperately wanted to keep their pets but life had gotten in the way. Animals were being relinquished for a variety of reasons, including by survivors who were actively trying to leave domestic violence situations. That reason hurts my heart: people having to make the choice to give up beloved furry family members, perhaps their only comfort, for the pet’s safety or because there are not enough resources that support keeping people and their pets together.

I recall one case where I was looking through pages and pages of veterinary records for a dog who was brought in often needing medical care for many bizarre injuries that he had somehow done to himself: Injured himself in his crate (lacerations), tripped and fell down the stairs (limping and bruising), bit owner when the couple was “arguing.” The list went on and on. When the dog’s person made the choice to surrender him to the shelter, they were relieved for the dog’s safety but their world was shattered. The dog was wanted. He was needed. They were both suffering from abuse. That stays with you.

Keep pets and people together. Seems like a pretty simple statement, right? Unfortunately, many restrictions make this impossible. For folks fleeing domestic violence situations, barriers include everything from finances, breed and weight restrictions, or strict no-pet policies at domestic violence shelters.

Which is why my heart was full on my first deployment with RedRover to Refuge House in Tallahassee, Florida, a domestic violence shelter that will now accept pets. In partnership with Rescue Rebuild, our two teams of staff and volunteers transformed green grassy areas and designated rooms into a safe place for animals. With a new cat room and outdoor catio, indoor and outdoor dog kennels, and a dog play yard, Refuge House is now able to say “Yes” to people and pets. Yes, they matter. Yes, they are wanted.

Building a safe animal space from scratch was no easy task. I texted a friend asking, “Did you know you can sweat through your knees?” My fingers were numb from building chain link fences, and muscles I didn’t know I had were sore, but it was truly the good work. The fill-you-with-light-and-love kind of work. The feel-it-in-your-soul kind of work. Survivors in Tallahassee, Florida will no longer have to choose between safety and the bond with their animals. For this, I am grateful.  

Make your gift for the Big Day of Giving to make a difference in the lives of animals escaping domestic abuse.