15 years is a long time, yet it goes by with the blink of an eye. On May 21, 2016 SAAV celebrated its 15th anniversary. On that day, May 21, 2001, my dear friend and law school classmate, Pam Hart and I filed the paperwork to incorporate a nonprofit organization to address the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. We were second year law students with no money, but plenty of time and ambition.
We'd recently attended a conference on the east coast when we heard a story that opened our eyes to the role of pets in family violence. A woman staying in a domestic abuse shelter in northern Wisconsin had found refuge, but her batterer had tracked her down in shelter. Incredibly, she received in the mail pictures of her batterer cutting the ears off of her beloved dog with garden shears. She told her case worker that she had to go home to save the life of her dog and the many other animals on the farm. The case worker never knew what happened to this brave woman whose love for her family animals was so fierce that she sacrificed her own safety for theirs.
Pam and I returned to Madison, expecting to discover that victims with pets did not have to risk their safety to keep the animal members of their family safe. We were surprised to find there was no real safety net in Dane County. While there had been efforts in the past to help victims with pets, there was no longer a program in place. When it did exist, it provided only limited on site shelter of pets at the local humane society. Due to the short duration of shelter, the outcome at the conclusion of the shelter period was usually a surrender of the animal. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We found a professor in public interest (thank you Professor Louise Trubek) and asked for her to supervise us for credit.
We started studying national models of shelter programs for the pets of abuse victims. We did not have a brick and mortar shelter, so we needed to innovate to provide refuge for animals caught in the cycle of abuse. We had an idea and approached Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) and the Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) to explain our vision - a foster network that would support victims and their animals. We created a formal shelter program (the SAAV Program) that provides confidential, temporary shelter for the pets of domestic abuse victims in Dane County for a period of up to 90 days. We provide shelter primarily through a network of foster homes. This service provides a comfortable living situation for the animals and is made possible by amazing and selfless volunteers who open their homes and their hearts to animals affected by domestic abuse. By doing so, we are truly saving lives. Research confirms that up to 48 percent of victims stay in a dangerous situation due to fear for the safety and well being of their animals. Research also confirms that 71 percent of victims coming into domestic abuse shelters report that their batterer had threatened or had harmed their pet. By providing safe shelter for pets, we are removing a barrier so that victims can seek safety for themselves.
We look back fondly at all that we've accomplished these past 15 years, particularly as an all-volunteer organization. It is also important to look forward to the accomplishments yet to come. In our next 15 years, we hope to help and inspire startups across the country by sharing our story and providing resources to those who want to start a shelter program in their own community. In honor of our anniversary, we've launched a "Resource Guide" to inspire those who want to help victims and their pets by starting a program in their own communities. You can locate it free of charge on our website here.
Thank you all for your dedication to our mission to help victims of domestic abuse by helping their animals. A special thank you to DAIS and DCHS for the wonderful relationship we've shared over these many years. We look forward to continuing to work with you to help all victims of family violence- both humans and animals. And to the woman in northern Wisconsin who inspired our efforts, we hope that she is safe and that she has found comfort and joy over the years from the animals she called her family.