In A Gentle Way, You Can Shake The World

In 2009 I attended the Animal Law Conference at Lewis and Clark Law School.  One of the talks I most enjoyed was given by Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (“SAAV”) co-founder, Megan Senatori.  I’d never before considered the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.  I was impressed that Megan had helped co-found a foster network to provide safe shelter for the pets of survivors fleeing their abusers.

Three years later, as I attended a luncheon to benefit my community’s domestic violence shelter, I wondered if our local domestic abuse shelter, Middle Way House, offered refuge to the pets of survivors escaping violent families.  Bloomington, Indiana is a forward-thinking college town; I felt sure that the idea could gain traction if a program was not already in place.

I was aware that SAAV was a resource available to help others interested in starting shelter programs for the animals of abuse victims, so I sent Megan an email to touch base.  Then, a friend put me in contact with a Women’s Advocate at Middle Way House named Erin Biebuyck.  I learned from Erin that Middle Way occasionally received calls on the crisis line involving animals, and that they provided help as much as possible on an ad hoc basis.  In a cool ‘Great Minds Think Alike’ moment, it turned out that Erin had already been considering the idea of working to pioneer an official safe haven for pets program.  The second coincidence was that Erin had contacted a group in Wisconsin called SAAV just the week before!  Erin and I laughed when Megan put us in touch with one another.

The stars were aligned and we got to work.  Erin and I formed a planning committee with several other terrific individuals:  Jo Liska, Debra Morrow and Stacy Weida.  Megan Reece joined the team as a volunteer intern.  We hammered out the policies and legal issues of our program.  We crafted administrative forms, wrote proposals for grant funding, sent letters to request product donations, planned a Crowdfunding campaign, trained program volunteers and gathered community support.  Ten months after our first committee meeting, we officially launched Middle Way PAWSS (Providing Animals and Women with Safe Shelter) in September.

In addition to suggesting resources and answering our questions along the way, I am grateful that Megan planted an idea in my mind on a fall day four years ago in Oregon.  We impact those we meet, sometimes in significant ways, by simply doing things that we find meaningful.  It is important to remember that with the right group of people, in the right place and at the right time, much is possible.  In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:  “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Allison Hess

Middle Way PAWSS - Bloomington, Indiana