By Debra Bell
Of the Weekly Staff
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series addressing the link between domestic violence and family animals.
The day Jenny Dwyer decided to leave her abuser was the day she took back her life.
“I honestly don’t know what got stronger in me,” she said. “He had always said every time we fought that if I didn’t like it, I could leave. One day I said, ‘If you say it one more time, you need to mean it.’”
So when her longtime boyfriend said it again, she waited for him to leave for work, packed up her dogs Copper and Kiwi, some of her belongings, and as much money as she had, and drove.
She drove away from Maine. She drove away from an eight-year relationship rife with domestic violence. She drove until she had no money left.
“I knew I had to get far enough away that I couldn’t afford to get back,” she said. “I knew he would be able to talk me into returning if it was in any way possible”
And she drove into a new life full of promise in Florida.
“I was singing to Cher’s … ‘Do You Believe in Life After Love’ at the top of my lungs through tears and mascara,” Dwyer said.
One year later, she returned to Maine — equipped with confidence, an education in skincare and the determination to start over.
Dwyer is a survivor of domestic violence in Maine, where iIn 2012 police recorded 5,593 domestic assaults, up from 5,353 in 2011.
While she doesn’t have children, she does have dogs.
“I felt I couldn’t leave when I should have because I didn’t have a place I could go with my dogs,” Dwyer said. “Leaving them wasn’t an option. And it wasn’t because I thought he’d hurt them. It was because I couldn’t leave without them. They were my kids.”
According to the Maine chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, studies have shown that 48 percent of battered women delay leaving a dangerous situation due to fear for their pets’ safety.
In addition, said Katie Hansberry, Maine state director of the Humane Society of the United States, research has found that homes where women and children are being abused are concurrent with homes where a family pet or animal is also being abused. The pet abuse, experts agree, may be real, implied, or financial, such as withholding medical care or access to food and water.
A 2007 study by Catherine Simmons and Peter Lehmann determined that batterers who abuse family pets use additional forms of violence and controlling behaviors on their human victims. In addition, Simmons and Lehmann noted that these abusers are more dangerous than abusers who do not abuse animals and more likely to hurt a human.
Through a dog’s eyes
Dwyer is the co-owner of Mutt Nose Best, a grooming product manufacturer located at 30 Bomarc Road in Bangor. Her business is more than a year old and is booming. Because of that, she said, it’s time to begin making a difference, one shelter at a time. Mutt Nose Best will do this through its nonprofit foundation: Through my Dog’s Eyes.
“I love the saying that I have on the wall here: ‘My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog already thinks I am,’” she said. “I love the idea that dogs wake up every day and are happy it’s a new day no matter what. I want the world to become the kind, loving place that is seen through my dog’s eyes.”
Through My Dog’s Eyes “BARKK… to End the Silence” campaign will focus on raising money to equip domestic violence shelters to take pets. BARKK stands for “Because Acts of Random Kindness Kount,” Dwyer said.
“It is our mission to provide grants to domestic violence shelters to help them become equipped to house family pets so these special furry family members are not separated from the humans they love during such a traumatic event,” Dwyer said. “Until that goal is met, we will strive to provide funding for families in harm’s way for emergency temporary, pet-friendly housing, or a temporary foster home for their animals.”
And the impetus came as a tribute to Danielle Lee Reed, a victim of domestic violence who was killed on Nov. 19, 2012, by the same man Dwyer escaped from so many years before.
The Bangor Daily News reported that on Nov. 19, 2012, Scott Reed, 43, stabbed his estranged wife, Danielle, 39, at the couple’s Alton Tannery Road home before shooting and killing himself. Reed’s friend Daniel Young, 41, also was found dead in the Alton home. The investigation into the three deaths is ongoing.
Danielle’s sister, Carmen Folsom Scott of East Corinth, said Danielle had always loved animals. She had a penchant for animal rescue starting at a young age.
At the time of her death she had a yellow lab, Piper; a cat, Callie; and a chocolate Labrador retriever named Brady. According to Scott, Danielle was in the process of ending her relationship with Reed, who had abused her. That resonated with Dwyer and how she had ended her relationship with Reed.
“A lot of times the abuser uses the animals as a way of controlling the person,” Dwyer said. “They know that the person won’t leave without them. [Her death] opened my eyes to the need… and to the idea that a woman can’t just pick up her things and go if she has pets, because there’s nowhere to go with them.”
Through My Dog’s Eyes has begun to collect funds for grants to domestic violence shelters as well as to provide emergency housing for people with pets attempting to get out of an abusive relationship.
“I think [this issue is] important, and I want to be able to use the platform we have as Mutt Nose Best to make a difference and have what happened [in Alton] not happen in vain,” Dwyer said.
One way that the community can contribute to the cause, she said, is to save the date for a canine-oriented event. That event, BARKK …to End the Silence, will be a “5K walk, run, or woof” and is being planned for Sept. 28 in Bangor.
“October is domestic violence awareness month,” she said. “We want to usher in October by doing an event in Bangor that will incorporate our venture with domestic violence month. Hopefully we will have raised some money to make our first shelter pet-friendly.”
In addition to helping shelters overcome the barrier of taking pets, Dwyer’s organization will work with a network of pet-friendly hotels and foster homes to enable people to get out with their animals, even if for just one or two nights.
Maine state law includes family animals in temporary and permanent orders of protection from abusers and stalkers. However, a barrier that still restricts people from getting out is the lack of places to which to escape.
“There’s no place for people to go with their pets to escape,” she said. “We need to fill that gap in to keep people safe and keep their pets safe and with them.”
Statewide, initiatives are in place to protect people and pets alike.
The Animal Welfare Society’s Pets And Women to Safety program is held in conjunction with Caring Unlimited, York County’s Domestic Violence program. The PAWS program has helped hundreds of pets and their owners since 2001, said Gail Crowell, program coordinator for the Animal Welfare Society and chair of the York County Linkage Coalition. The program utilizes a network of foster homes to keep pets safe.
Maine also has a network of Safe Havens. Find out more at the Humane Society of the United States website, humanesociety.org and searching “Safe Havens Directory.”
Learn more about how to contribute by visiting MuttNoseBest.com or call 262-8773.
This series will continue throughout the year on the Critters blog, critters.bangordailynews.com. If you have a story you would like to share about how animals helped you during a crisis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.