The Bully’s Human Animal Bond Club hosted representatives from the Safe Haven for Pets program and Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter to inform audiences of the effects of domestic violence on both people and pets on Tuesday evening.
The presentation was located in the Wise Center, the home of Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Featured guests were Dr. Sharon Grace, the founder of Safe Haven for Pets and Abby Miller, executive director of Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter in Meridian, Mississippi.
Dr. Sharon Grace, a licensed veterinarian and clinical professor at MSU-CVM, launched the Safe Haven for Pets program in 2008. Dr. Kent Hoblet, the dean of MSU-CVM, introduced Grace and described how pleased the veterinary college was to offer her a position after earning her DVM.
“Since childhood, she has had an affection for pets that continues to shape her life,” Hoblet said. “We were happy to welcome Dr. Grace back to MSU.”
The initial goals of Safe Haven for Pets were to develop an academic model for sheltering pets of families impacted by violence, demonstrate the power of community service and assist other groups in launching their own programs.
Safe Haven for Pets provides pets of domestic violence victims temporary boarding at MSU’s veterinary college campus, along with any medical and surgical care the animals might require.
According to Grace, approximately 75% of families affected by domestic violence report their pet has been threatened, injured or killed, and up to 50% of victims delay escape from their abusers out of concern for their pets.
Most domestic violence shelters are simply not equipped to handle pets for many reasons, including concerns about finances, disease transmission and spatial limitations.
Domestic violence victims experience several challenges when planning to leave their abusers, such as financial, transportation and career stress. Grace said she is proud her program can alleviate at least one of these stressors.
“We try to remove one of the challenges by taking care of their pets,” Grace said.
The process begins when Care Lodge, located in Meridian, Mississippi, contacts Safe Haven about a pet in need. Safe Haven meets with the family before relocating the animal to the MSU-CVM clinic where it receives a physical exam and vaccinations.
Some animals board at the college without any concerns while others need individualized care. Safe Haven for Pets provides the animals with anything they need.
“Whatever is needed to improve the status of their health while they’re here, we do that,” Grace said.
All of these services cost the Care Lodge and its families absolutely nothing. Safe Haven for Pets is self-sustained through donations alone.
The organization was born in honor of a kitten named Cleopatra. Grace owned a veterinary practice in Franklin, Tennessee where she received a call in Jan. 1996 about a grievously injured kitten who was deliberately harmed by a group of young adults at a party.
The kitten, named Cleopatra, was brought to the clinic, and Grace desperately tried to save her life for five months. Finally, when it came time to end Cleopatra’s suffering, the kitten made the front headlines of hometown newspapers and local news broadcasts.
Grace entered Cleopatra in the Tennessee Animal Hall of Fame, an annual program that honors domestic animals who exemplify the strength and value of the human-animal bond. The award’s board called Grace to apologize as it was unable to give the cat the award posthumously.
A few days later, they called back, and Grace was presented the President’s Award of Courage for Cleopatra in 1997.
Safe Haven for Pets has housed 74 animals over the last 10 years with an average stay of around 35 days each, totaling 2,600 days of around-the-clock care. These pets are treated by third-year veterinary students, and additional support comes from donation drives held by the students.
When pets leave MSU, they receive a year of flea, tick and heartworm prevention medication, several bags of food, necessary medications and more. Only two animals have ever been abandoned throughout the history of the program, but they were quickly adopted and taken to a new home by vet students.
Now that the program has been in place for over a decade, Safe Haven for Pets is setting new goals for its future. These goals include expanding current services, sharing expertise with interested groups and introducing two new program models—pairing veterinary clinics and animal shelters with local domestic violence centers.
In a presentation about the effects of domestic violence, Miller described the dangers of having a pet in an abusive home.
“The most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when they are ready to leave,” Miller said. “Having pets is another factor that must be taken into account when planning an escape.”
Affected families are extremely comforted when they hear about the Safe Haven for Pets program, Miller said.
“The Safe Haven program provides such a sense of relief to victims when we’re talking to them,” Miller said. “Being able to say, ‘Yes, we have a safe place for your pets to go’ is amazing.”
Ashley Carpenter, a junior majoring in broadcasting and journalism, hopes more people become aware of the Safe Haven program after the presentation because of how it could have helped her.
“Growing up, I went through a similar situation as a kid when my parents were in an abusive relationship,” Carpenter said. “When they got divorced, I had to give my two cats away. It makes me very hopeful that this program is in place, knowing that animals can still be taken care of.”
Safe Haven for Pets was recently gifted $500,000 from MSU alumnus Jim Rouse and his wife Julia in 2019. This generous donation will fund the program’s future expansion and continuing services for victims of domestic violence.