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.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6
TRACK B: INTERVENTION
Dayna Desmarais, President, SafePet Ottawa
Kia Rainbow, Executive Director, Interval House of Ottawa
Interval House of Ottawa is creating an innovative and groundbreaking animal co-housing program. Housing pets with their families in a shelter for victims of violence will allow for an increase in the support system for women and children fleeing abuse. It has been proven that the human-animal bond is critical during times of stress and trauma. Animals provide emotional support, accelerating the healing process of both women and children. During stressful situations, some people benefit more from a pet’s companionship than from a human friend. Keeping families together, including the family pet, provides a sense of continuity, security and safety.
- Building/increasing space within VAW shelters to house much-loved family pets.
- Attending to fears and allergies of all people in a community living environment.
- The importance of partnerships in a project such as this.
Dayna Desmarais has been a life-long animal lover and advocate. She believes in a humane Canada. Her life has been dedicated to working with animals in numerous capacities which she began by working with fostering for rescues in 2009. In 2012, she opened a pet-sitting company focused on providing the highest standards of care to animals in the Ottawa area. Shortly after that, she began an apprenticeship studying canine behaviour science in a more hands-on approach. While making great personal accomplishments in those fields, she also completed courses from Duke University in Canine Emotion & Cognition, as well as from the University of Edinburgh in Animal Welfare and Behaviour.
The year 2013 sparked the beginning of Dayna's involvement with SafePet Ottawa, where she sat on the Board as their Vice President for 3 years before being voted in as their President in 2017. It was through this young non-profit organization that she learned more about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. It became apparent to her that more needed to be done to raise attention and awareness to the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.
The inspiration and motivation to make a difference for the treatment of animals came not only through Dayna's love for them, but also through her mother's. Dayna's mom inspires her every day to do more, to be better and to embody the true attributes of an animal advocate. Because of her mother's hard work to help rescue and rehabilitate animals throughout Dayna’s childhood, she has been blessed with the passion and drive to do the same. Read our interview with Dayna Rose-Desmarais here!
Kia Rainbow is the Executive Director of Interval House of Ottawa, a thirty-bed shelter for women and children fleeing violence. She has worked in the area of violence against women (VAW) for more than twenty-five years and, in that time, has researched, developed, implemented, managed and evaluated numerous VAW programs.
Today, Kia is putting her energies into creating an innovative and groundbreaking animal co-housing program at Interval House of Ottawa. The animal housing area will support women and their children fleeing violence to bring their beloved family pets into the shelter with them. Numerous studies explain why women who are bonded to their companion animals may choose to remain in violent homes in order to keep their pets safe. As well, allowing women and children to take their pets with them eliminates their need to return to the abusive home to protect their pets from the abusers’ calculated retaliation.