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Jen Adams was in her early 40s with no kids when she felt the calling to “just do something.” Specifically, something with animals.
And then, it came to her. Having previously volunteered at an animal shelter, she knew there were pets trapped in domestic violence situations, and survivors who would never leave them behind. This fear that an abuser may hurt a pet results in 25 to 50 percent of survivors delaying their escape.
With no experience in running a nonprofit, Adams founded Hush Puppy Haven, assembled a board and started making calls. Who needed help in her hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida? She linked up with the Domestic Abuse Council of Voulsia County (DAC) and it’s through them that she finds survivors who need a temporary home for their pets while they find safety.
“We’re in our seventh year now and have helped over 80 families and their pets,” she says. The number would be higher except she and volunteers typically only foster pets of survivors who seek emergency shelter, and the DAC is full “almost all the time,” she says. (See “Finding a Safe Place” for what to do if your shelter is full.)
It’s Not Always a Final Escape
“It’s been rewarding and heartbreaking,” says Adams of the work she does, especially when she knows a survivor is returning to their abuser. According to a DomesticShelters.org survey of nearly 1,000 survivors, it takes an average of leaving 6.3 times before being able to leave for good. There are also at least 50 barriers that could be standing in her way. But Adams says she just wants to make it a little easier for them to leave—even if it takes multiple times.
“I’ve repeat fostered a few times. I always tell them I’m here if you need me again.”
As for the animals she and her volunteers welcome into their homes—mostly dogs, some cats and one bunny so far—Adams says she does more than just provide furry family members with a safe place to curl up. She offers to get them vet care, if needed, including vaccinations and spay or neutering services.
And though, luckily, it hasn’t happened yet, if she sees any indication that the pet has been abused, she has the legal resources available to keep the pet from returning to the abuser’s home.
The location of where the pet is going is kept confidential to keep the volunteer foster family safe. The average stay for a pet is six to eight weeks though, says Adams, “we don’t put a limit on it. We just ask them to please stay in touch with us.”
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Sometimes, that doesn’t always happen. Sadly, a few survivors haven’t come back for their pets, and Adams made sure to find them safe, new homes. In one instance, a survivor asked Adams if she would keep her dog, a 9-year-old named Brie.
“Her [the survivor’s] abuser had done a lot of damage, and she was going back to him after she left the shelter.” Adams said she would give the pup a safe life.
Hope for the Future
Like many grassroots nonprofits, Hush Puppy Haven’s volunteer force is tiny, but dedicated. Her board is made up of just four members, all unpaid and finding volunteer foster families is challenging. She has maybe four volunteers she can call on at any hour of the day to take in an anything from an 80-pound pit bull who may or may not be housebroken, to a teacup poodle. Luckily, she says, she’s never once had to say no to a survivor.
The reception from her Florida community “has been amazing,” says Adams, and she hopes to use that to fuel her next endeavor: kennels on-site at the DAC shelter. They’re currently looking for sponsors.
“We’re looking to renovate an existing building on site, and we’ll be able to have four to five dogs on the property,” says Adams, in addition to a cat room. “We know how important it is to keep these pets with their families. It’s healing to see them every day, feed them, take care of them.”
Looking for a safe haven for your pet while you escape an abusive partner? Read “Ask Amanda: What to Do With Pets?” for links to organizations that provide pet safe havens.
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
Have a question about domestic violence? Type your question below to find answers.