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Home sweet home: Shelter to welcome victims' pets

Her Magazine, Kansas City

Diamonds are reputed to be a girl’s best friend, but ask one Kansas City woman and she’ll tell you she prefers man’s best friend. And for good reason: last year when her then-boyfriend assaulted her with a hammer, her dog saved her life.
 
“When my great dane, J.Matthew, heard me scream, he laid on top of me. I tried to get him out of the way, but he received the first of many blows from my abuser,” says McKenzie, 30, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. 
 
J.Matthew then attacked her abuser, who in turn beat the dog and threw the dog from the porch by the neck. “I ran to him but was told if I touched him, he would shoot him. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not and I didn’t want to push it,” McKenzie says. 
 
Instead, she escaped and called the police, who arrested her abuser. When she returned with a police escort, they found J.Matthew lying injured next to the house. A veterinarian later treated him for a broken hip and ribs. Remarkably, McKenzie sustained no injuries. 
 
Police encouraged McKenzie to call the Rose Brooks Center domestic violence hotline. She did, but when she learned she couldn’t bring J.Matthew with her, she refused to go. “He’s my angel,” she told the volunteer advocate and the police. “We’ll just sleep in my car.” 
 
Staff at the center had to make a decision. “Because of her incredibly dangerous situation, we made an exception for her and her dog,” says Susan Miller, CEO of Rose Brooks Center. 
 
But McKenzie’s situation isn’t unique. 
 
“Over the years, our crisis hotline has received countless calls from women who desire to leave their abuser, but ultimately decide to remain in their dangerous home because they fear their abuser will injure or even kill their beloved dog or cat,” Miller says. 
 
National statistics support these results, Miller adds, with 84 percent of women in domestic violence shelters reporting that their abusers also abused pets in the home and 40 percent of women reporting they’re unwilling to leave their abusers because they fear for the safety of their pets. “Abusers threaten and injure pets in order to control their victims and to create an environment of fear within the home,” she says. 
 
And like McKenzie, some victims would rather live in their cars with their pets than leave them or surrender them to an animal shelter. Staff also found that children experienced additional trauma when separated from beloved pets. “This is not acceptable,” Miller says. “Families need to have a safe place to escape to, a place that welcomes the entire family including pets.” 
 
In response, Rose Brooks Center created a mini-pilot program to test the feasibility of keeping pets on site. What they found confirmed what they already knew, Miller says, that pets offer consistency and comfort for pet owners during a challenging time in their lives. 
 
Staff also knew what they had to do next: provide a home for these four-legged victims. The center broke ground last fall for a new wing that will add four bedrooms with baths, a play area, a health clinic and therapy rooms. To this expansion, they will add a pet shelter, making Rose Brooks Center the first domestic violence shelter in the region to welcome pets. 
 
The center will need to raise an additional $140,000 during the next several months for the pet shelter and to provide supplies for the new service. “I am confident that the community will join us in this effort as they did for the shelter expansion,” Miller says.
 
Welcoming pets to Rose Brooks Center will alleviate just one more barrier women face when trying to escape their violent homes, Miller adds. “Our work every day is to keep families safe and help them rebuild their lives. And pets are part of that family, too.”
 
McKenzie echoes that sentiment. “No matter if it’s two-legged or four-legged, it’s that bond of love,” she says. “There’s nothing more healing than that.” 
 
To donate money or in-kind supplies such as food or leashes for the new pet shelter, visit www.RoseBrooks.org or call 816.523.5550, ext. 419. Reach the Rose Brooks Crisis Line at 816.861.6100. 
 
 
Kristin Chenoweth to perform at benefit 
Actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Rose Brooks Center’s 25th Cabaret, its signature fundraising event, on Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Sheraton Crown Center. The goal is to raise $700,000 to provide a year’s worth of safe nights for an estimated 70,000 women and children in shelter. For sponsorship and ticket information, visit www.RoseBrooks.org or call 816.523.5550, ext. 435.