Episode 16 – Megan Senatori, Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV)

16 Megan Senatori_FB   In this episode, we talk with Megan Senatori, an attorney who serves as the Co-Founder and current President of Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (“SAAV”). Founded in 2001, SAAV is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of abuse within families in Dane County, Wisconsin. Like many other safe-haven programs across the country, SAAV plays a unique role in the fight against abuse by recognizing the importance of animals as vital family members, and through arranging for their safe harbor at a time of critical need–when a domestic abuse victim is seeking refuge from an abuser. Megan and the team at SAAV work to find the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, and focuses on how to stop the cycle of abuse. To learn more about Megan and SAAV you can visit their website, http://www.saavprogram.org/
We have provided the phone numbers that people in Dane County can call for help,  608-251-4445 or 800-747-4045. You can find similar programs to SAAV in your area by visiting The Humane Society of the United States or The Animal Welfare Institute.
Megan has provided a guide if you are interested in starting your own organization, http://www.saavprogram.org/resource-guide/
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is proudly sponsored by Joubert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue Relate Transport. Now on with our show today, we’re speaking with BIGON signatory Megan is an attorney and serves as the co founder and current president of sheltering animals of Abuse Victims. Founded in 2001 saves an all volunteer five, a one C three nonprofit dedicated to ending the cycle of abuse within families in Dane County, Wisconsin. Like so many other safe haven programs across the country, Save plays a unique role in the fight against abuse by recognizing the importance of animals as vital family members and through arranging for their safe harbor at a time of critical need. When a domestic abuse victim is seeking refuge from an abuser, Megan and the team that save work hard to find the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, and they focused on how to stop the cycle of abuse through their community outreach. Hey, Megan. Welcome to the program. Good afternoon, Chris. Thank you for having me. So tell salute about you. I’m an attorney in private practice, so I’m a litigator by training. I’ve been in private practice about 15 years, but the reason I’m here with you today is because I have a passion for domestic violence and animal cruelty advocacy, in other words, educating people about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. So how did you get into that? Because I saw you founded the organization back in 2001 which probably seems like an eternity ago. Yes, it’s crazy. We had our 15th anniversary last year. Uh, gone very quickly, but I came to this work when I was a law student. I went to a conference with my dear friend Pam Heart were both lost students at University of Wisconsin Law School. And we went to an animal welfare conference essentially not having anything to do with domestic violence or animal cruelty. And we were there. And I remember sitting in a presentation and slide came up during the presentation, and I honestly don’t even remember what the presentation itself was about what the slide was about was about a domestic abuse victim in northern Wisconsin who had made it to safety in a domestic abuse shelter. Her batterer had tracked her down and had arranged to have photographs sent to her of him abusing their dog. And I won’t give you the graphics of the photograph, but it’s a heart breaking image. I get choked up still this many years later, still talking about it. Um, and the woman who had put the slide together was the domestic abuse advocate for this victim said that the victim left shelter and went back. She lived on a farm, and she said, I know if I don’t go back, I can’t save the life of my dog and all the animals on the farm. And so she actually put herself in harm’s way and went back to the batter to save her animals. And that just opened my eyes to something I had never thought about, which was the connection between domestic violence and animal cruelty. Wow, what a very powerful story. So so that obviously moved you to the point where he said, I got to do something about this. How did how did you get going? How did you begin? Yeah, the thing that was really remarkable about it is Pam and I were both lost students who really had a passion for animals and wanted to use our law degrees somehow to advocate for animal protection. And we were kind of doing it, you know, through traditional ways we wanted to do spay neuter clinics or things of that nature and us both sitting in the room and seeing this caused us to have a discussion about what? What are the resource is for victims where we’re from, which was Madison, Wisconsin, and we both from that moment on, started to investigate it, figure out what re sources were available, what we could do. And we approached a professor at the law school who did public interest law to sponsor us. And for a couple of credits, we put together our own framework to come up with a non profit organization to try to tackle this issue. Wow, that’s amazing. So now is this organization unique in the US Or have you encountered other organizations that focus on similar things I think are organization is definitely unique and it was particularly unique for the time period that we started it, which was May of 2001. So when we initially started, we were called Wolf Wisconsin United for furry friends, a name we came up with in the lobby law school. Andi. It didn’t when we honed in more closely on the domestic violence animal cruelty piece. It didn’t it didn’t meet that the seriousness of that topic. And so in 2001 it was still one of those things where I feel like when people asked me what we did, and I gave them domestic violence and animal abuse together in the same sentence, they would look at me blankly and say, What does one have to do with the other? Right? Fast forward to now 2017. Usually when I present on the topic, people are nodding their heads. I see tears in the audience. People get it and they understand it more and more. And so it really has has changed over time. So, you know, recognizing that obviously there’s a lot of confident challenge and that’s what kind of give us some of the highlights of the overview, maybe, of how the program works. Sure, we basically have two facets, so to speak. The first is we provide temporary, confidential emergency shelter for the pets of domestic abuse victims who are seeking refuge from a batterer. So research shows that up to 48% of victims report that they delayed leaving a battery because they didn’t have a safe place for their pet. And so what we do is we’re out there to provide a resource so that they don’t have to ever make that decision that the woman who inspired us from northern Wisconsin had to make, which was to put herself in harm’s way to protect her pets. So that’s one facet of what we dio. The other is really community outreach and advocacy, things like we’re doing today to talk about this topic and we provide resource is to other organizations that want to do a start up like we did with save. So we have, for example, on our website, which is saved as a V program all one word dot org’s. We have our start up kits on there, and it provides information for people who may be in the position. We were back in 2001 when we were trying to set up a program and provides resource ins and legal forms and all kinds of stuff for people who want to create this type of program in their own community. Very cool. Have you kept track? Do people have Has it been used or the other programs spending up because of us? Yeah, we actually, it’s really inspiring. I received contact from people that will send email or thank you and say that they got started because they heard Pam awry, or someone on our board or someone affiliated with their organization. Talk about this topic and it inspired them to go out and do something in their own community. So it’s really been rewarding that way because to be effective, you need programs like this in every county in Wisconsin, all 72 across the state, because we are just one resource that is in Dane County, Wisconsin, in terms of the shelter services, and there are still lots of areas where there are not good resource is for victims who have pets and are looking for safe shelter. Very interesting. One of things I found really cool when I was researching your website is it hasn’t been just about dogs and cats. I saw turkeys and turtles and birds. And yes, I think a lot of people associated with companion animals, but it can really be any type of animal. And we have fostered everything from the hamsters to iguanas. Two ferrets. We’ve had farm animals. We have certainly had dogs and cats. But when a batter targets a victim by targeting an animal in the family, you know there is no species line. Their batterers will target farm animals just like companion animals. And so we really as long as we have a foster home, which is how we provide our shelter, as long as we have a foster home for that type of animal will take the animal. So, yeah, that’s really cool. And quite quite amazing Israeli particular story that would help people to kind of visualize how this happens. Sure, I can’t give any specifics just because of the confidential and sensitive nature of what we dio, but essentially the victims that we work with. We work with victims who are receiving services at the time of in taken to our program. They have to be receiving services from days, which is domestic abuse intervention services. They are a domestic abuse agency located in Dane County. Um and then we provider services by partnering with the Dane County Humane Society, also in Dane County on DSO. Sort of this everybody that comes to us really has a unique story in terms of what they’re struggled with. But they’re usually they’re in a violent relationship. Many times they have Children. Most of the time, I feel like they have Children. Those that get connected to our program obviously have pets as members of their family, and they’re looking for safety and away to leave. And there are lots of barriers that impact a domestic abuse victims ability to leave a batterer. One of them is if they don’t have a safe place, further animal. So they come to Austin. We are away with our partnership with Dane County Humane Society and days to remove one barrier which is not having safe shelter for their pets. So they reach out and we kind of set it up that way. And, um, lots of different the most rewarding toys there, really, When the victim were working within her animal are reunited at the end of the shelter, period. Those air the most rewarding times. Yeah, I was gonna say that would definitely be rewarding. How Maney do you keep track? Of how many animals? Over the years, I’ve been a look, you know, right before we talked. I know where over 200. I think we’re over about 2 30 or to 40 now. Um, and so it’s In the early years, I would say we kind of got things going and to make sure that it would work, we weren’t out in the community talking about it all that much. It was more a little bit lower key to make sure that the program would work. And we had. The resource is in terms of foster homes and overtime. Then those numbers have grown, as we’ve been out in the community talking about this, making sure that victims are aware of the services we offer. And so, yeah, we’ve We’ve been very successful in helping remove barriers for people so that they can find safety for themselves and their family, including their pets. Yeah. Yeah, very cool. Now, I would guess that that’s one of the child Did you have his awareness? So maybe talk about some of the advocacy and and just kind of trying to get the word out to people that the strangest exist. Sure, we do a lot of community outreach. Some of the popular events we do our dog fest, which is sponsored by mountains every year. We also do Dog Fair Badger Kennel Club and then were invited to do a variety of events. Were really fortunate to participate in puppy Up, which was in May. And so I feel like over time, different people in other community groups that are either associated with animals or domestic violence or even something completely different here about us invite us to speak and we go out into the community so that people are It’s either we’re trying to reach directly victims that need our services, but also people who have friends or family or coworkers or others they have some relationship with. That may be a victim and so that people know that we’re resource. We also work with veterinarians, is another area where we try to get out to make sure veterinarians are aware of the link and how they can help so matter of getting getting the word out there in lots of different ways. And thank you so much for having me today because this is one of the ways that we do it. Yeah, sure for sure. Yeah, This is a very it’s just such an inspiring program in such a unique aspect that I’m guessing people don’t think about a lot and you must get a lot like you said a lot of head nodding. And while I never really thought about that until, sure, until you start to educate them a little bit more, I think a lot of people don’t realize the barriers that are facing domestic abuse victims, and in particular, they don’t realize that if you’re and I can say sitting there at this conference that I told you about back at the beginning, I didn’t realize that if you’re a domestic abuse victim and you’re seeking shelter, you can’t take your pets with you. These air usually close quarters. A lot of people underfunded, you know, small areas. There’s liability concerns if you have someone get bit by an animal for people with allergies, So domestic abuse agencies and organizations air, certainly aware of this issue, but they typically can’t take animals into shelter. I saw a statistic on it somewhere, but it was only It was like 90% or something could not take animals into shelter. So I think most people have never had a chance to think about it because they just think you’re animals would go with you. You pack up your stuff and out you go and that includes your animals. But that’s not the reality. Sure, now do you went when you were getting into law. What were you even thinking about getting into something animal related in law? It was there. No, I really wasn’t. I was. I had my undergraduate degree was in political science and I had a women’s studies certificate, so I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do family law because I wanted to do women focused type things. I didn’t turn out, too, like practicing family law. Um, any general commercial litigation now. So my my my job, my litigation job is not, you know, not related to family law anymore. But yeah, it was something. When I was sitting at the conference, I had had a group on a farm and loved animals and had a huge background with animals. And then I had volunteered, done a lot of work in the area of domestic abuse, but had never thought of the two. Having anything to do with one another seems so obvious now. But I was gonna say you must have learned a lot just over the last 15 years. Yeah. What lessons would you share with somebody that wants to get into this and and goes and downloads? The resource is you have you know what advice to give him how to get started. I think the most important thing for us was really the research and planning. And since Pam and I are both attorneys, we spent when we did that programme for a credit or to whatever we got, we really looked across the country to see how people were able to do this and decided for us what would work. It wouldn’t work. What was unique about our model is we put together what I like to call a community collaboration model. So, given the reality of where we were at the time, we were both law students with no money but a lot of time. And so we put the time into research something that would work for our situation. And we also wanted it to be holistic in the sense of having people who were experts in helping the two victims. So there are. There’s a human victim here and an animal victim Both, you know, have been ensnared in this cycle of violence and are in our community. We were looking for who is already doing this and doing an exceptional job. How can we bring this together by not reinventing the wheel? And that’s how we did the partnership. So I would say to anybody out there looking to do it. Don’t assume that because you don’t have resource is you can’t make a difference. Don’t assume that, you know, there is something there that already exists to serve this need because we were surprised to find out that there wasn’t. And it’s really a matter of planning and getting the information together, and then networking with the right people was really networking. I think that really brought our program together. Absolutely. That’s, um that’s really cool. So I’m curious. Is there been anybody over the years? A person or another organization that’s really inspired you to keep going, Um, in terms of a person, I have to say it’s the woman that I mentioned at the outset. I don’t know her name. Um, it makes me choked up whenever I think about it, because I always wonder what happened to her and what happened to her dog that was being abused and the other animals on the farm and whether she is safe and somewhere where she has peace. Now I hope so. And in terms of organizations, certainly the people that we work with to provide the program that the Dane County Humane Society and domestic abuse intervention services just utmost professionals doing fantastic work that is very difficult and can be very thankless and can be very stressful. And they on all sides just do it with a lot of pride and kindness and generosity. And so, yeah, it’s a it’s a are volunteers, quite honestly, because we could not do what we do to save. We primarily provide the shelter through a foster network, so we have people who opened their home to complete straight to, you know, a complete stranger. The domestic abuse victim to take their pet in, and that’s a really selfless thing. And so we we couldn’t do it without all of our volunteers, but especially our foster volunteers. Sure. And if somebody was interested in being a volunteer for you, how did they? How did they get hooked up? Probably best to go to our website save program dot org’s. And there’s information on their frequently asked questions are application is on there to be a foster home for us to go through two orientations. The first is put on by us, and we do it with days and the Humane Society, and that one is very focused on the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. So we wanted the people who volunteered with us to understand what their role was in our wider mission, which is stopping the cycle of abuse and so are fosters. Go through a training, which is kind of like a domestic violence. 101 for like of a better term, focuses on power and control dynamics, what an abusive relationship looks like and feel like how victims air treated, how animals get become part of that cycle of abuse on Ben and that part is presented by someone from domestic abuse intervention services. I then present on the link, and I present all the statistics and evidence and what not being an attorney. I’m always looking for the fax, prove it between the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. And then someone from the Humane Society talks about foster issues that are unique to our program to save. So you go through that orientation, and then there’s a standard orientation that anybody who fosters for the humane society goes through. So that’s the type of commitment that we look for. But we do that because it’s very important to us that the victims were helping. No, that the people on the other side have just a little bit of an understanding of what it is that they’ve been going through. Yeah, absolutely. Your to your question, but no, that’s great, though that’s that’s very helpful to give people the context of what goes into this and the dedication that they need to have to be a volunteer for you. So So what’s next for save? What’s the next evolution? You know, we’re always looking for ways to make bigger impacts and It’s something that we’re always talking about and evaluating and, you know, out in the out, trying to see what the next big thing is. So I can’t tell you something as I sit here today, but there were always looking toe have a broader impact with what we’re doing. Yeah, well, I think you’ve had quite an awesome impact. I just reading some of the stuff. Like I said from your website, Andi, seeing the number of animals you’ve impacted in such a specific area of animal rescue that people wouldn’t ordinarily think about it seems like you guys were definitely pioneers in this. Oh, well, thank you. Thank you. There’s been a lot of people that have been really instrumental in the work that we do, and we’re glad we’re able to go out and help him to make a difference in the community. So is there anything else you wanted toe share with our listeners Beacon before we wrap things up? Sure, if I might. I wanted to just talk to things. One would be how animals do get ensnared in the cycle of abuse because I think people don’t necessarily understand the dynamics of domestic abuse. and how animals I think people picture. Oh, well, if you’re in a domestic abuse relationship, um, the batter might kick the dog. And what we want people to understand is, it’s not just the battery decides to kick the dog. It’s all about power and control. And so the person who is the abuser or the batterer in that relationship is targeting things that that victim loves. And I don’t mean to refer to animals is things, But it could be anything from the television to ah, photo album. In often times, it is Children in the relationship, and it could be animals as well. And so when there is domestic violence and animal cruelty that is coincident in a relationship, which is common that they go together, the batter is trying to control the victim by exercising power and control with threats to injure an animal. So don’t leave me or this will happen to the animal. It could be symbolic. Think of what I could do to you if I could do this to our cat, it can be about keeping secrets, making sure that the victim doesn’t report because they know there’s a threat of what would happen to the animal. And so there’s a lot of, um, there’s a lot wrapped up in that, that we’re trying to stop through what we’re doing with save. So it’s more complicated than I think people initially think. So that means one thing. The other thing is just sort of how we work with our program. It’s important for people to know it’s really based in confidentiality. And so the people who take animals into their home and our program never know who the human being is on the other side, that they’re helping. And likewise that domestic abuse victim never knows the person who has their animal. And we have always operated our program with that hallmark of confidentiality. And we do that for safety reasons is paramount. But also we didn’t want people to not reach out and seek our services because they didn’t want someone else to know they were a victim. We work with people all the time, and for those listening, you may have friends or family or your boss at work or someone who you think is this very strong person who you can imagine would be a victim of domestic abuse And I can promise you that there are victims all around us that you don’t know that they’re victims. And so we wanted people to use our services and not be worried that they would have to reveal publicly that they were a victim of abuse. So confidentiality is really important to what we dio. Yeah, absolutely. And I’m glad that you share that with everybody so well, thank you, Megan. Thank you for what you do and thank you for sharing with everybody. And we’re really glad that you came on the program today. Thank you so much for having me and for raising awareness about this issue. I think it’s so important. So thank you. 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