Dayna Rose-Desmarais is the President of the Board of SafePet Ottawa, which provides safe foster homes to animals so that women and children can leave abusive situations without fearing for the safety of their pets. She is one of the expert speakers sharing her knowledge on the link between human and animal abuse at the CFHS Canadian Violence Link Conference in Ottawa December 4-6. She spoke to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) about her work with SafePet Ottawa and her upcoming session at the conference.
CFHS: Can you tell us how and why you got involved in your work with SafePet Ottawa?
DRD: Years ago, before I met my husband, I was in an abusive relationship. And it was actually my dog that made me leave – I didn't do it for me. After that experience, it was really important to me to get involved with a rescue or charity that supports women in that position. I saw a post about SafePet Ottawa and, I thought, "That's perfect! I’d be helping animals and helping women to say goodbye to abuse." I've been involved with SafePet for four years now. This project was definitely love at first sight, and we're growing every day – new foster homes, new clinics and more demand. Which is both good and bad. We're happy that women are leaving and that animals are staying safe, but it's a sad reality just how needed the program really is.
CFHS: Can you explain what SafePet does?
DRD: At this time, there are almost no violence against women shelters that allow women to leave a violent situation and then cohabitate with their pets in shelters. So what we've been seeing is that either women weren't leaving or they were giving up their pets in order to leave. SafePet Ottawa has a system for making sure these pets stay safe. When a woman wants to leave her abuser, she contacts the shelter she wants to enter, and the shelter worker asks her if she has any pets in the home. If the woman says yes, they tell her about the SafePet program and give her the opportunity to use our services or tell the shelter that she's made alternate arrangements.
If she decides to use our program, she’s directed to one of our confidential veterinary clinics. The woman would make an appointment to bring her pets to the vet clinic, at which point the vet does an exam to check for signs of abuse for potential animal cruelty charges against the abuser, makes sure the animal is up-to-date on vaccines and, on occasion, a spay or neuter surgery is offered. Once that’s all done, the woman leaves and the pets stay at the clinic for up to 2 hours, waiting to be picked up by our foster volunteer. When the woman is ready to reclaim her pets, the foster volunteer will bring the animals back to the vet clinic, and she will arrive 1-2 hours later to pick up her pets. At that point, we’re hoping they all live happily ever after in a new, safe home.
CFHS: This is incredible work you're doing. How many people and animals have you helped?
DRD: We've helped 68 families so far and 114 animals.
CFHS: You're coming to talk about SafePet Ottawa at the Canadian Link Conference here in Ottawa in December. Can you say more about what you’ll be presenting on?
DRD: I'm very excited to come to the Link Conference to talk about SafePet and how we do the work we do. When I saw the conference description, not only did it click with what we’re doing in our program, it clicked in my mind as the conversation that we need to be having. This isn't a conversation that needs to happen just in Ottawa – it's one we should be having on a national stage. Violence against people and animals is happening every day. It's affecting our animals and our children, and we need to do something about it. Whether you’re involved in this work through animal cruelty enforcement, as a veterinarian, a police officer, a social worker, a shelter worker – or as a volunteer who works for an organization like SafePet, it's a conversation that we all need to take part in to set goals and all work actively toward them. That's when we're going to see new legislation, people standing up to abuse and reporting it. We are so happy and proud to be a part of this event.