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Operation Pet Rescue to work with ACT

By Staff | Dec 5, 2019

A nonprofit organization based out of Lehigh Acres has begun working with the Abuse Counseling and Treatment center to help victims of abuse find a temporary home for their pet until they get their feet under them.

Operation Pet Rescue Co-Director Jen Buffington said the organization began about a year ago, providing adoptions and rescues.

“There are a lot of rescues in Southwest Florida, in South Florida,” she said.

Through their work, they discovered several months ago how many domestic violence victims do not leave their homes because of their dogs. Buffington said they found that, typically, when a person is being abused, the dog, cat, or other animal in the house also is being abused, just as a child could be abused.

“There are a few organizations that have shelters on their campus for pets, but there are not really any in the area. We reached out to ACT to see if they would be interested in working on a program,” Buffington said.

It has turned into Operation Pet Rescue’s biggest program.

Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc. provides services to adult survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking as well as to their children. The organization’s mission is to “protect, support, educate and empower victims,” in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties.

“It means so much for us to be able to share to the community that there’s one less barrier people will face in getting help when they’re in an abusive relationship. When I shared this news for the first time, the whole room clapped,” ACT spokesperson Megan Dalabes said in a prepared statement.

According to a release provided by the organization, up to “70 percent of abuse victims do not leave their abuser because they would have to leave their pet behind, oftentimes in fear of the pet’s safety.”

“When animal cruelty co-occurs with spousal or child abuse, the abuser may use violence against animals as a means of further terrorizing his or her human victims. Women who are abused often stay in destructive situations due to threats against or concern for their companion animals. Abusers can manipulate and control their human victims through threatened or actual violence against beloved family pets. Killing a cherished companion animal can be an act of revenge; it also can be a way of removing an important source of comfort and love, an act that further isolates the abused,” a prepared statement by the Humane Society of the U.S. reports.

Buffington said they have a dedicated hotline phone for people who are looking for help. If it is shared they are struggling because of a pet they cannot leave behind and have no other place to bring the pet to, Operation Pet Rescue is contacted.

“We make arrangements directly with them to take on their pet,” she said. “I coordinate getting the pet and getting the pet to the foster, so there is never communication directly through the client.”

She said they had a situation not too long ago where they could not take on a pet because the dog was aggressive, so they found boarding for the dog, so the woman could leave person abusing her and have a safe place for the dog as well.

“We really are doing whatever we can. We make phone calls if we don’t have a foster at the moment. We are finding a way to find a temporary solution to get the victim out of the home,” Buffington said. “Most shelters in the area will not take a pet unless you surrender the pet to them. They don’t have a program to get the pet back.”

She said it was important for Operation Pet Rescue to get involved, so they could be a temporary foster, so the victim can get back on their feet, while knowing their pet is safe.

Operation Pet Rescue currently has seven fosters, a number that is growing as the word gets out about the victims’ struggle of leaving due to a pet.

“It’s becoming more and more widely recognized as being a need. ACT has never been able to be successful in getting someone to help them. When I reached out to them several months ago, they were like absolutely,” Buffington said. “ACT is amazing. The need is so incredibly great. It’s so amazing the strength that these women have and what they have gone through, what they have overcome to be able to leave and go through everything they need to go through to get on their feet. They are so strong and I am incredibly honored to be a part of that for them.”

Once Operation Pet Rescue gets involved, there is paperwork involved before the pet stays with a foster, typically for 120 days. If it needs to be longer, it can be extended for an additional amount of time.

“We start out with three months because that is typically the length of time for a victim at the shelter to get on their feet and in their own place,” she said.

While the pet is with a foster, weekly updates are given for the client through the ACT case worker. Pictures, as well as how the pet is doing, what activities they are doing, are provided.

Buffington said they are in desperate need of more fosters because they can only help as many people as they have fosters.

“With the holidays, it is a high-need time,” she said.

Those interested in becoming a foster can visit www.operationpetrescueus.com and click on the form to become a foster, or email jen@operationpetrescueus.com and ask for an application.

The potential foster will have a home visit to see if their home is suitable for animals, as well as checking the sustainability of their pets to make sure they are able to have other pets in their home. The current pets also have to be current on their vaccinations.

Buffington said it often is that people who come to them in need have pets that are not current on their vaccinations.

“We get that done for them to make sure that those pets are safe and the foster pets are safe. That is a big cost for us to make sure their pets are current on vaccines,” she said.