*In the interest of confidentiality, the photos used in this story are of Brother Wolf animals who are not in the Keep Me Safe program.
Helpmate is one of the local organizations that Brother Wolf teams up with through our Keep Me safe program. Through this program, we provide a safety net to the animals of domestic violence survivors. When victims know that their animals have a safe place to go — and can be returned to them once they are safe too — they are far more likely to seek help.
April Burgess-Johnson has been the Executive Director at Helpmate for the past 5 years, but she has been doing this type of work for more than two decades. “Helpmate provides services to survivors of domestic violence,” April says. “We have a whole host of services. We offer a 24-hour hotline, every day of the year. So if somebody needs us at 3am on Christmas morning, we’re there for them. We also offer an advocacy program for legal support, case managers who help identify solutions to challenges, emergency shelter for those fleeing violence, free therapeutic counseling, and preventative education.”
Helpmate serves more than 2,500 people every year and know that their clients consider their pets to be family. “When they’re making plans for the humans in their families, they’re also thinking about what will happen to their pets if they leave,” she says. “Sadly, animal abuse and domestic violence often go together, either because the batterer chooses to be violent towards every entity in the household or specifically to use violence against an animal to control their partner.”
When it comes to removing animals from domestic violence situations, the options are limited. That’s why partnerships with animal support partners like Brother Wolf are so critical. “Helpmate’s shelter is not set up to accommodate animals other than service animals, so we rely on partners like Brother Wolf to be able to provide emergency shelter or safe foster options for people who want to make sure their pets are safe when they flee.” People will stay in a battering relationship to protect those around them, including their pets.
April says that sometimes it’s helpful for people to just know that the Keep Me Safe program exists, whether or not they take advantage of it. “We try to coach people through safely planning their departure,” she says, “because victims and the people around them are at much higher danger of very serious injury or homicide immediately upon leaving or immediately following the time that they have left. Pets are at heightened danger during that time as well. So we’ll often encounter situations where a client thinks they know someone who can keep their pet safe, but they need a backup plan that’s different than staying in or going back to the situation. So, in addition to the actual practical support that the program offers, there’s some peace of mind.”
The impact of the partnership between Helpmate and Brother Wolf is huge. April recalls one client who fled an abusive partner and needed a safe place for her dog to go. “She had a small dog who was the light of her life. It was the hardest thing for her to surrender the dog to foster care. I just happened to be there the day that the dog came home. There was just so much glee from somebody who had lived a life that was filled with pain for many, many years. You could really see what the dog meant to her and how the dog was a key part of her support system. It was something that kept her sane during moments that would break most of us. Being reunited with her dog was so meaningful to her — it really made me realize the importance of this program.”
“If there are any victims reading this story who may be considering their options,” April says, “I want them to know there is some legal protection available for their pets. They can take out a domestic violence protective order (some people call it a restraining order). If someone takes out one of those orders, they should be sure to mention it to their advocate and also to the judge, so the judge can make a ruling that they have custody of that pet. That way, they don’t have to live in fear that their partner won’t allow them to remove the pet from the situation.”
To take advantage of the Keep Me Safe program, or any of the services offered by Helpmate, call Helpmate’s 24-hour hotline at (828) 254-0516. Buncombe County residents can dial 211. You may also show up with or without an appointment to the Family Justice Center at 35 Woodfin Street in downtown Asheville between the hours of 8am-5pm Monday through Friday. Click here to visit Helpmate’s website.
Animals in our Keep Me Safe program reside with foster parents who have been specially trained in the importance of confidentiality and security. Keeping these animals and their people safe is our top priority. Click here to learn more about Brother Wolf’s foster program.