To Protect Battered Women, You Have to Protect Their Pets

Earlier this year, a New York City woman—I’ll call her Mary—tried to leave her abusive husband. She contacted a shelter, but the shelter wouldn’t take pets. Nor would any other shelter in the city. Mary’s son said he couldn’t leave his three cats behind. And so, since Mary couldn’t leave without her son, she stayed outside the shelter system.

Pets do not get much attention in research on domestic violence, but there is reason to believe that situations like Mary’s are amazingly common. A 2007 summary of available research, published in the journal Violence Against Women, found that in the dozen or so shelters in the country that collect data on the issue, between 18 and 48 percent of women said they had delayed leaving their abusers because it meant leaving their pets. In one study conducted in upstate New York, researchers found that among women who had seen their pets abused, 65 percent had put off seeking help. Presumably, many others with pets never leave home at all.

In 2008, there were only four shelters in the country that accommodated domestic animals. Today there are 73, but that’s still only about three percent of shelters nationwide, and to date, no program in a city as large or dense as New York has allowed women to “co-shelter” directly with their animals.

Between 20 and 71 percent of pet-owning women entering shelters have seen their animals harmed or threatened by their abuser.

That might be changing. In June, Mary, her children, and their cats became the first participants in a program called People and Animals Living Safely, a six-month pilot conceived by the Urban Resource Institute, a non-profit that runs four shelters in New York City, and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit coalition of animal rescue groups. Now Mary, kids, and pets live together in a sparsely furnished third-floor apartment in the Urban Resource Institute’s biggest shelter. Ten of the building’s 38 units have been designated pet-friendly and outfitted with crates, litter boxes, window screens, and pet food. For the pilot period, women will be allowed to bring cats and smaller animals with them into the shelter, and if enough money can be raised to build a dog run in the alley, there are plans to accept dogs by December. The Urban Resource Institute hopes to expand the PALS program to all its shelters—and prod the rest of the city’s system to do the same. When I accompanied a group of visitors there this summer, Mary was proud to show us her three new matching pet crates; the cats sat pressed against the backs of their cages, warily eyeing the outsiders.

According to the Violence Against Women research summary, between 20 and 71 percent of pet-owning women entering shelters have seen their animals harmed or threatened by their abuser. Pets can become scapegoats or hostages, the targets of threats or abuse meant to terrorize another person. But animals can also be the lone comforters and sometime protectors of isolated victims. All this makes the prospect of leaving a pet behind particularly terrifying.

Recent history has yielded some spectacular demonstrations of how far people will go to protect their pets. Eight years ago, the nation watched as many residents of New Orleans refused to evacuate their homes in advance of Hurricane Katrina in order to stay with their animals, which were barred from shelters like the Superdome. A year after the storm, Congress passed legislation requiring states to include domestic animals in their disaster evacuation plans if they wanted to receive federal disaster aid. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard last year, New York’s shelters all aggressively advertised pet-friendly policies.

Katrina was an epiphany for policymakers, says Jenny Coffey, a social worker with the Mayor’s Alliance. “People were photographed holding on to their animals for dear life. The shelters that didn’t allow the animals didn’t realize how much they were losing. … What hasn’t happened,” Coffey adds, “is the trickle-down of that understanding to the small, personal life crises— specifically domestic violence. Until this plan.”

There are still glitches to be worked out with the PALS program. For instance, the city’s domestic violence hotline, which matches victims with shelters, does not yet ask callers whether they have pets. Consequently, few women learn that pet-friendly options exist. And it remains to be seen how shelters can best deal with allergies, pet health, and liabilities if residents are bitten or scratched.

But there’s little doubt that pets are on victims’ minds. In the shelter where Mary and her children now live, the walls of the basement rec room are covered with pictures from kids’ art-therapy sessions. Almost all of them are of cats and dogs.

Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, among other books.
Article courtesy Pacific Standard:

Comfort Food

No one brings dinner when your daughter is an addict.

When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we ate well. Mary Beth and I had both read the terrifying pathology report of a tumor the size of an olive. The surgical digging for lymph nodes was followed by months of radiation. We ate very well.

Friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation sessions and sometimes to her favorite ice cream shop on the half-hour drive back from the hospital. She always ordered a chocolate malt. Extra thick.

Our family feasted for months on the lovingly prepared dishes brought by friends from work and church and the neighborhood: chicken breasts encrusted with parmesan, covered safely in tin foil; pots of thick soup with hearty bread; bubbling pans of lasagna and macaroni and cheese. There were warm home-baked rolls in tea towel–covered baskets, ham with dark baked pineapple rings, scalloped potatoes, and warm pies overflowing with the syrups of cherries or apples.

Leftovers piled up in the refrigerator, and soon the freezer filled up too, this tsunami of food offerings an edible symbol of our community’s abundant generosity.

Although few said the word breast unless it belonged to a chicken, many friends were familiar with the word cancer and said it often, without flinching. They asked how we were doing, sent notes and cards, passed along things they’d read about treatments and medications, emailed links to good recovery websites and the titles of helpful books, called frequently, placed gentle if tentative hands on shoulders, spoke in low and warm tones, wondered if we had enough food. The phrase we heard most was: “If there’s anything I can do … ”

In the following months, after Mary Beth had begun speaking in full sentences again and could stay awake for an entire meal, the stored foods in the freezer ran out, and we began cooking on our own again. Our children, Nick and Maggie, sometimes complained jokingly about our daily fare. “Someone should get cancer so we can eat better food,” they’d say. And we actually laughed.

Almost a decade later, our daughter, Maggie, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following years of secret alcohol and drug abuse.

No warm casseroles.

At 19, she was arrested for drug possession, faced a judge, and was placed on a probation program. Before her hearings, we ate soup and grilled cheese in a restaurant near the courthouse, mere booths away from the lawyers, police officers, and court clerks she might later see.

No scalloped potatoes in tinfoil pans.

Maggie was disciplined by her college for breaking the drug and alcohol rules. She began an outpatient recovery program. She took a medical leave from school. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed, released. She began years of counseling, recovery meetings, and intensive outpatient rehabilitation. She lived in a recovery house, relapsed, then spent seven weeks in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

No soup, no homemade loaves of bread.

Maggie progressed well at the treatment center. When the insurance coverage on inpatient treatment ran out for the year, she was transferred to a “partial house” where she and other women slept at night then were returned by van to the facility for full days of recovery sessions, meals, volleyball games, counseling, and horticultural therapy. This daughter who once stayed as far away from my garden as possible lest I catch a whiff of my stolen whiskey on her breath was now planting a garden herself, arranging painted rocks around an angel statue donated by a counselor, carrying buckets of water to nurture impatiens, petunia, delphinium, and geranium.

Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable. These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?” “Do you find your manic episodes are less intense now that you are on medication?” “What does depression feel like?” “Is the counseling helpful?” A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions. No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.

We drove nearly five hours round trip each Sunday for our one weekly visiting hour. The sustenance of food, candy, and fiction were forbidden as gifts to patients at the treatment center. Instead, we brought Maggie cigarettes, sketchbooks, colored pencils, and phone cards. Any beef roasts or spaghetti dinners we ate were ones we’d prepared ourselves or bought in a restaurant on the long road to the center.

Then, late one night in June, Maggie and another patient were riding in the treatment center’s van on the way back to their house after a full day of the hard work of addiction recovery. The number of patients in the partial house had diminished from six a few days before, after a scandal involving small bags of ground coffee some smuggled from the house to the center and sold as though it were cocaine to addicts craving real coffee. (The center, like many, served only decaf.) Dozing off and comfortable in the seat behind the driver, Maggie might have been thinking of those coffee dealers who had been returned to the main facility or dismissed. Or maybe she was thinking about the upcoming wedding of her brother, Nick. A light pink bridesmaid’s dress waited in her closet at our house. Her release from the center was scheduled for two days before she and Mary Beth were to fly to Wisconsin for the wedding.

That night, an oncoming speeding car hit the van head-on.

The medics radioed for helicopters, and soon the air over Chester County, Pa., was full of them, four coming from Philadelphia, Coatesville, and Wilmington, one for each patient. The accident site was soon a garish roadside attraction of backboards, neck braces, IV tubes, oxygen tanks, gurneys, strobing lights, the deep thumping of helicopter blades, and the whine of turbines.

A newspaper picture later showed five firefighters, all in full gear, lifting a woman from a van—only her feet and an edge of the backboard visible. The van’s roof, dark and torn and jagged in the picture, had been removed by hydraulic cutters while the huddled victims, Maggie unconscious among them, were carefully covered with blankets. One of her front teeth lay in a puddle of blood on the ground.

When we saw her in the hospital, her face was a swollen mass of stitches, bruises, and torn flesh. Brown dried blood was still caked in her ears. Mary Beth carefully cleaned it with a licked paper towel, as if she were gently wiping Maggie’s face of grape jelly smudges or white donut powder just before Sunday school. At first, Maggie only remembered headlights, but soon she would mention “a cute EMS tech waking me up,” and the muffled chattering of helicopters.

The day she was released from the hospital, Maggie insisted on returning to the rehab center to complete her program, a heroine in a wheelchair among heroin addicts and alcoholics. On the way there, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch, where Maggie ate mashed potatoes, a little soup, and sucked a mango smoothie through a straw held carefully where her tooth was missing. Back at the center, we rolled her out to see her garden.

While Maggie was in the hospital, cards and letters filled our mailbox at home. For the two weeks that Maggie remained in rehab, and even while she flew to the Midwest, then wore her pink dress at Nick’s wedding and danced triumphantly with her cousins, offers of food crackled from our answering machine and scrolled out on email: “If there’s anything I can do … ”


Article courtesy: Larry M. Lake


Developmental Trauma: Children & Youth

“How we are introduced to the world is how we are introduced to ourselves. If the world we are living in is highly chaotic or neglectful, unloving, or otherwise harmful or unstable, then we tend to turn that inward.” -Ally Jamieson, MSW

Trauma can occur at any point in an individual’s life, but as Ally Jamieson, MSW suggests, trauma experienced during adulthood and trauma experienced during childhood are generally interpreted and dealt with in different ways. In our latest Voices of Family Podcast, entitled Developmental Trauma: The Science Behind Supporting Children&Youth, we speak to Ally whose academic focus on the relation between trauma and brain development places her at the forefront of expertise on this issue.

As Ally discusses in the podcast, the primary difference between how children and adults frame traumatic experiences in their mind is that adults are able to draw from previous experiences in order to make sense of the traumatic event that took place, while children are not. Adults already have the developmental circuitry in place to make sense of a situation. They have a pre-defined reality.

Children, on the other hand, do not. Children’s brains are structurally and functionally different to adults’. They experience trauma as relational distress that is ongoing in nature and if multiple traumatic events occur over the course of their childhood years, it becomes their own personal reality. They have no reference point from which to examine these negative events and subsequently work through them.

Continual traumatic experiences are tied to what is termed the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis or the HPA for short. The HPA axis is the primary stress response system of the body. Every time an individual goes through a stressful, traumatic event, the HPA axis releases hormones into the bloodstream that are associated with the “Fight or Flight” stress response. These hormones include, but are not limited to, cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, etc. If these hormones are released often, and on a long-term basis, they can compromise the capacity of certain brain structures to develop.

But, according to Ally, it isn’t all bad news; in fact, the brain is quite remarkably resilient. By utilizing the techniques that Ally outlines in the podcast, it is possible for professionals working with children and youth who have experienced developmental trauma to teach them how to live a mindful lifestyle while being able to self-regulate their emotional responses.

Adverse experiences can affect brain structure and genetic expression, but so can positive experiences! Replacing negative experiences with positive ones can help to catalyze the healing process in youth who have dealt with developmental trauma.

Article courtesy
By: by Cara Hykawy
Communications Assistant

A Mom is Born

When a baby is born, so is a mom, metaphorically speaking. You are gifted the title of Mom and with the title comes a new name, job, role, and position. The list is endless and the importance is infinite with this new role and a new responsibility. How you grow into motherhood is different for everyone. You see that little bundle of potential and you’re a mix of emotions. Just as baby is growing, so are you – into the role of a lifetime.

Babies need love, affection, physical touch and attention to their needs and wants. They need to hear your voice and feel your presence. And you do too! Attachment for both of you comes from those moments over and over, repeated again and again. To cuddle and snuggle, to feed and change, to get up every few hours and make sure baby is ok and baby wakes up to feed and check in on you and make sure you are still there. They need you. You are their world, their protector and their guide. You make food appear, uncomfortable gas disappear and dirty diapers be-gone.

Yes, you will have stressful times. Yes, you will have sad times. Yes you will have times that stretch your sanity beyond what you thought was possible, but you will also have wonderful, happy, loving, bonding moments that are so heart and soul filling you might just want to burst. And it doesn’t stop. Your Mommy role is fluid like the ocean. You will continue to bond and grow as a mother and a child and as a unit of love and trust.

So, just like a newborn babe, you are a newborn Mom. Allow yourself the same compassion, support, love and patience you give your little one because you are both beginning this journey as mother and child together.  At every stage your little one grows and develops, so do you. Enjoy this journey of a lifetime, together.