MADISON (WKOW) -- Domestic violence victims face many challenges that get in the way of leaving their abusers, but a local organization is helping make the decision a little easier.
One of the biggest obstacles for some victims is a love for their pets. In some cases, victims delay leaving because they know their pet won't be safe on its own. Domestic violence shelters don't accept animals to stay for a variety of reasons.
"Victims-- like everyone else-- view their animals as members of the family and we want to make sure we provide safe harbor for those animals and we reunite them when they are safe," says Megan Senatori, co-founder of Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims, or SAAV.
SAAV started fostering in 2003. Since then, volunteers have sheltered more than 160 animals affected by domestic violence in Dane County, averaging about 25 to 35 pets a year.
SAAV has about 40 foster homes in a variety of different environments so the program can take just about any kind of pet, from the more common dogs and cats, to horses or even fish.
Victims receiving help of any kind from Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) can apply for the SAAV program. DAIS works closely with the organization to facilitate the help. Anyone who calls the helpline is asked if their animal needs assistance too.
"Often, they're looking for different resources, maybe they're thinking about leaving, maybe they've already left and it's really important that they're connected to community resources that we have in Dane County," says Crisis Intervention Manager Meg Sohns. "As soon as they identify they have pets we definitely bring up the SAAV program and then they would be connected with an advocate to meet in person."
Sohns tells 27 News it's not uncommon for abusers to target pets as a way to keep the victim from leaving. Providing another option helps the victims focus on securing safe housing for themselves.
It's a confidential service to keep victims, their pets and the foster families safe. The victims never know who's fostering their animal and the foster families don't meet the victims.
After the shelter period, SAAV volunteers do not stay in contact with the victims because many have ongoing safety concerns. It's difficult to find a victim willing to share their story because many are worried about jeopardizing the safety they've gained by leaving.
The program relies on a trust in those who want to help, like Bebe Bryan. The Madison woman has been opening her home to animals in need for two years. She says she's never really had any problems with the animals interacting with her dog and she loves being able to help out.
"For me, it could not be a better win-win, I could not think of a better way to spend my time," Bryans tells 27 News. "I'm so grateful to be able to do this."
SAAV offers 90 days of shelter for pets of people using services from DAIS. The organization relies on donations, grants and a lot of volunteer work. Until recently, SAAV was the only program of its kind in Wisconsin.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact the DAIS Help Line at (608) 251-4445 or 800-747-4045.
If you'd like to get involved with fostering animals for the SAAV program, or to donate, visit the SAAV website.