Women’s Center Sasawin Project receives Banfield grant

MARQUETTE — A program that supports survivors of domestic violence by ensuring the safety of their pets has received some support itself.

The Sasawin Project at the Women’s Center has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the Banfield Foundation’s Pet Advocacy Grant Program, according to a press release. The Sasawin Project provides refuge for the companion animals of domestic-violence survivors through a foster care network, preserving the relationship between these animals and their families.

Sasawin’s Founding Director Helen Kahn said for many survivors, the wellbeing of their furry family members can factor strongly into whether they stay or go.

“The Harbor House is equipped, as many shelters are, to welcome families with kids. What (shelters are) not equipped to do, with only a few exceptions, is to welcome animals,” Kahn said. “So many women won’t leave their domestic violence situations if they have to leave their animal behind. The perpetrator has (often) already harmed their animal, (or) targeted their animal. Perpetrators do anything that they can to threaten, to exert control, and that’s another way that they can do that.”

Sasawin is an Anishinaabe word for “nest” or “safe place.”

The Sasawin Project was launched in 2013, as a partnership of the Women’s Center and its Harbor House domestic-violence shelter, the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter and Northern Michigan University, where Kahn is a professor of speech, language and hearing sciences.

Kahn said Sasawin has been able to fund the veterinary care for animals that were hurt and almost killed by domestic violence.

According to the American Humane Association, approximately 70 to 75 percent of domestic-violence survivors with companion animals said their abusive partners harmed or killed the animals. As many as 50 percent of domestic-violence survivors delay or refrain from leaving violent situations out of concern for their pets.

Yet a vast minority of domestic-violence shelters provide housing for the animals of their clients, Kahn said.

The Sasawin Project enables survivors, their children and their companion animals to safely transition from Harbor House to permanent, pet-friendly housing as an intact family unit. During this transition, the Sasawin Project can provide fostering, basic care items, routine and emergency veterinary services, and animal behavior consultation as needed, at no cost to the survivors.

In total, the Sasawin Project has helped about 30 animals, including dogs, cats and a few horses, Kahn said.

The money can’t be used for staff time, publicity or anything but direct support of the animals, she said.

“This is really about animal welfare in the context of animals being a part of the family, and many people, myself included, consider animals part of the family,” Kahn said.

The Sasawin Project also received support from the local Zonta Club this spring, when a group of young women at Marquette Alternative High School raised $500 for the program, Kahn said.

People interested in fostering or donating to the Sasawin Project can call Cindi DePetro at the Women’s Center at 906-225-1346 or email Kahn at sasawin@nmu.edu.

The Women’s Center was established in 1973 and provides 24/7 access to emergency-intervention services, counseling and advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, dating violence and stalking. The Harbor House is a safe haven for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It is the only shelter of its kind in Marquette and Alger Counties. There is no charge for shelter or support services. All services are paid for through fundraising, grants and community donations.

The Banfield Foundation, a nonprofit organization, funds programs that enable veterinary care, elevate the power of the human-animal bond, provide disaster relief for pets, and advance the science of veterinary medicine through fostering innovation and education. It also leverages the expertise and passion of Banfield Pet Hospital associates to care for pets in need. The Banfield Foundation is “committed to making a better world for pets because they make a better world for us,” according to the release.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.