More than a rescue

by Heather Jones Skaggs

Domestic violence occurs across every sector of society. “We know that a significant amount of abuse survivors will delay fleeing a dangerous situation because they fear what their abuser may do when they leave. Many times, a survivor will delay seeking help for fear of harm coming to a family pet,” says Perry Trice, Coordinator for Shelby SafePet, a program which assists any Alabama resident with animals that they love. These victims want very much to keep their pets, but they may need additional help doing so.

The program began as a pilot program with Shelby Humane in October 2017 serving two local domestic violence programs with two vet partners and one foster volunteer. “Shelby Humane is the parent organization, but the SafePet program is an entity within it and is separate from the shelter and spay/neuter programs,” Perry explains

“When I moved to Alabama,” Perry says, “I had an opportunity to change careers. I was interested in helping others and wanted to work in nonprofit. [Previously] I worked for a local mental health authority as a benefits/trust fund accounts manager, but I realized I wanted a more direct service role.” Perry’s wife, who has worked in the nonprofit world for many years, told him about the (at the time) new program called SafePet and thought it would be a great fit. “I met with the director, David Arias, and he felt my particular skill set was complementary to what he wanted to develop. I began developing, building and working to expand the SafePet program. After the pilot period, Shelby SafePet went statewide in 2018.

“Today, we have a partnership with the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ACADV). We serve all 16 of their member programs as well as related programs. We also average around 3-4 transportation volunteers and 15 foster volunteers.”

Volunteers, drivers, and veterinarians work together to help anyone seeking assistance.
An example situation that Perry often uses to describe how the program works is a woman who has been isolated by her partner. She may or may not be experiencing physical abuse but definitely feels threatened and wants to leave. The woman fears if she does leave, however, the abuser will seek retribution on their dog. The abuser has made threats to do this in the past.

When SafePet is contacted, the victim is able to get a referral to their nearest domestic violence program that is able to assist in developing a safety plan for them and their pet.

“In this situation, she decides that going into the emergency shelter is the best option for her,” Perry says. “An advocate from the program is able to help her get the dog to one of our vet partners, where they fully evaluate the animal. A transport volunteer anonymously brings the dog to a SafePet foster family that will keep him safe and comfortable for 60 days. This gives the woman time to have some rest and make decisions about what she would like to do with their pet next.”

Perry points out that all abuse situations are not the same, and each must be handled with care. Men can be victims of domestic violence as well, just like women and children. “We understand that abuse does not discriminate by gender or orientation, and we serve anyone in need of our services.”

“It’s a terrible choice for someone to make. We help to remove that barrier of safety by working with our partners across Alabama to provide assistance in these situations. Whether it is by temporary fostering, veterinary assistance, routine vaccinations, spay/neutering (all at no cost to the client), help with supplies or pet food, or financial assistance in the form of a pet deposit, if this is what the client needs, we will help them” Perry says. The only eligibility requirements are that the person must be a resident of Alabama, be working with a domestic violence organization they recognize, and have an animal that is not aggressive.

Shelby SafePet also partners with Southern Veterinary Partners to work with their network of veterinarians and have gained the support of countless rescue groups, animal welfare nonprofits, veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities, professional groomers and trainers, community service organizations, and private citizens who want to help.

“As we’ve grown, our needs are expanding,” Perry says. “People who learn about our program see the potential for how we can help right away. Whatever the specific issue (domestic violence, animal welfare, helping women/families, law enforcement, domestic violence prevention/education, community service), we provide a lot of opportunities.”

Alabama is setting an example of helping victims both human and animal with a program like Shelby SafePet. “All the ACADV member organizations we have partnered with have told me some version of the same thing: this program is very important,” Perry plainly states. “Less than 20% of domestic violence agencies nationwide are set up to take in animals, and this statistic applies to Alabama as well. Almost every client when surveyed about their experience has told us, without SafePet, ‘I do not know what I would have done.’ ”

Learn more about Shelby SafePet online at shelbysafepet.org, by phone at (205) 669-3916, or follow them on Facebook.

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