A battered Johnson County woman desperate to leave her husband ended up living in her car when she learned that Safehome, Johnson County’s shelter for victims of domestic violence, couldn’t accommodate her beloved dog.
Another woman left her husband with only her dog and no other possessions, saying the dog had supported her through the abuse.
“My husband would often threaten to abuse Bella as another way to control me,” she said. “When I finally found the courage to leave, I left with nothing but Bella.”
These stories and others have prompted Safehome to make plans to become the first Kansas domestic violence facility to offer an on-site pet shelter, said Janee’ Hanzlick, Safehome executive director.
The emergency pet shelter is part of a $2.9 million capital campaign to expand the residential shelter by 20 percent and increase the capacity of the shelter’s counseling and children’s programs.
A projected timeline calls for the renovation and construction to take place in three phases, Hanzlick said. Renovation of the new Education and Prevention Center in an office building Safehome has already purchased will begin Aug. 1. Renovation to expand the shelter itself will take place October through December and construction of the pet shelter will begin in January 2015.
“Of course, the timing is just an estimate and may be revised as we move into the renovation,” she said.
Hanzlick said the issue of pets surfaces frequently at Safehome.
“So often we receive calls from victims afraid to leave their pets behind,” she said. “If people have stepped over that line and hurt people, then they have no issues with hurting pets.”
Up to 48 percent of battered women delay leaving abusive situations in fear for what might happen to their animals, she said. More than two-thirds of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters report that their batterer has injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or psychological control.
“Unfortunately, we have heard of cases of pets being hurt or killed in domestic violence situations,” she said. “It’s a real concern and we want to remove that barrier to victims seeking help.”
Safehome appointed a pet shelter committee comprised of animal experts to design the shelter, which will be a free-standing, climate-controlled building designed to accommodate six dogs and eight cats. Also included will be a bathing station, play areas and outside exercise areas to allow owners and pets to interact.
Safehome is partnering with Great Plains SPCA for veterinarian care for animals in the shelter as well as foster care for the pets, she said. PetSmart will donate food and supplies.
The committee is reviewing policies and procedures for operating the shelter, she said. The length of time each pet would be allowed to stay in the shelter would depend on each victim’s situation, she added.
“Our hope would be that victims would eventually be able to place their animals temporarily with family or friends or in foster care to open up space for other animals,” she said.
Safehome isn’t planning to hire additional staff to oversee the shelter, she said. Instead, existing staff as well as pet owners and volunteers would care for the animals.
Safehome is in need of the pet shelter and expanded residential space because of increased demand for services, Hanzlick said. Currently, Safehome is always full and there is a waiting list for counseling services.
The increase in demand is due, in part, to Johnson County’s Lethality Assessment Program. Initiated in 2011, the program gives police at the scene of domestic violence a screening tool to help assess the level of danger for the victim.
“We receive 50 to 100 police-initiated calls monthly through the program,” she said. “It’s a very effective screening tool.”
Money to expand the shelter is being generated by both a grant and local donations, she said. Safehome has received a $500,000 Mabee Challenge Grant but needs to raise money from the community in order to receive it.
“We’re 91 percent there and need to raise $261,000 by the end of June,” she said. “We’ve had an outpouring of community support because people realize this topic is vital. In Johnson County, 50 percent of all homicides are related to domestic violence.”
You can help
Kansas residents who donate to the campaign are eligible for a 50 percent tax credit.
To donate, visit Safehome’s website at safehome-ks.org or mail checks to Safehome, P.O. Box 4583, Overland Park, KS 66204. Check writers should put “Capital Campaign” in the memo line.