The Truth Will Always Be The Truth. Even If No One Believes It.

Today is the last day of October. Just a reminder: October is Adopt A Shelter Pet month AND Domestic Violence Awareness month. Let’s not forget these two important issues. There is a strong correlation between animal cruelty and violence against people. St. Petersburg, Florida’s CASA set to open a Pet Kennel and THE NEW BARKER visited. (No graphic photos).

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by Anna Cooke

One of the first studies to address the link between child abuse and animal abuse, discovered that 88 percent of homes with physically abused children also included abuse or neglect of the family pet (DeViney, Dickert & Lockhart 1983). In a nationwide study, more than 71 percent of battered women reported that their abusers had harmed, killed or threatened animals, and 32 percent reported that their children harmed or killed animals (Ascione et al, 1997). Children who are exposed to domestic violence are nearly three times more likely to treat animals with cruelty than children who are not exposed to such violence (Currie, 2006). Animal cruelty committed by children is often symptomatic of future abuse toward other animals or people.

The dog who inspired Utah’s Henry’s Law was tortured by a man who was jealous of his wife’s pet. Rhonda Kamper wasn’t aware of the dog abuse her Chihuahua was enduring while she was at work. If Henry was in her lap when the couple was sitting on the couch, it was an issue. If she took the dog for a walk, it was an issue. “I’d ask my husband to come walk with us, but he wouldn’t,” said Kamper. Increasingly suspicious, she warned her husband that if anything happened to Henry, their marriage was over. “You love that dog more than me,” her husband responded. One day, she came home to find the dog injured with burns. After pressing her husband for an answer, he told her the dog had been placed in the oven. “I saw a side of my husband I had never seen before,” said Kamper. By the weekend, she had left.

While awareness of the correlation between domestic violence and animal cruelty continues to grow, only a fraction of shelters for domestic abuse victims allow pets. This means that the victim often remains in a dangerous situation rather than leave a companion pet – sometimes the only comfort that they have had during their abuse.

Recently, Mikkel Becker, a certified dog trainer and Dr. Marty Becker‘s daughter, shared her own story of domestic violence. Mikkel is a contributor for vetstreet.com, USA Today, Woman’s Day and Real Simple Magazine, and the co-author of five books.

“As painful as it is to share my story, I hope other victims and survivors of domestic violence can find hope and reassurance that they’re not alone,” wrote Mikkel. “I continue to pray, deep in the heart of me, that more domestic violence shelters find ways to offer support to help both humans and pets. As I know all too well, the love of our animals can keep us trapped in dangerous situations for far too long.”

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Mikkel Becker with her dad Dr. Marty Becker, who is holding Rita, one of THE NEW BARKER “rover reporters” during Global Pet Expo in Orlando.

Abuse of pets raises concern for the children in these households for several reasons. First, witnessing the abuse of a beloved pet is emotionally distressing for the child. Second, it also models a pattern of behavior that clearly is detrimental to healthy development. In addition, abusers’ unrealistic expectations of pets may lead to abusive incidents such as beating a puppy for urinating on the floor. This is worrisome since unrealistic developmental expectations also are a common trigger for child abuse (e.g., shaking injuries in crying infants, abuse of toddlers associated with toilet-training accidents).

The length of time children remain in these dangerous, sometimes deadly environments may be prolonged by the presence of pets. Concerns about the pets’ safety leads many victims to delay leaving their abusive homes. Abusers whose violence includes abuse of family pets have been shown to be more controlling and to employ more dangerous forms of violence.*

Forty years ago, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) began as a simple eight-bed emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence. CASA is the official domestic violence center for southern Pinellas County. By the late 1990s, it had grown into a 30-bed shelter with a 24-hour Crisis Hotline, Outreach Services and the Peacemaker Program. Today, CASA  has a beautiful new 100-bed emergency shelter and its Pet Kennel is scheduled to officially open before the end of 2017.

Over the past 12 months alone, CASA has provided 37,000 nights of safety at its shelter. When the new shelter was being built, it was always the vision and immediate goal of Executive Director Linda A. Osmundson, to construct an on-site kennel for pets. Unfortunately, it did not make the initial budget cut and the project was put on an indeterminate hold until after the construction of the much-needed larger domestic violence shelter was complete. Thanks to a generous donation by a local animal lover, a grant from RedRover Relief and Linda’s dogged determination, the 288 square foot pet kennel has been constructed.

We had an opportunity to tour the facility and kennels in March 2017 with John Biesinger and Mo Venouziou. “Every person who comes through those doors presents a different issue. Deciding to leave an abusive situation while a pet remains behind is not something we want these women and children to have to worry about. Thanks to our great staff, like Vanessa Washington, and our volunteers, we’re able to make it work,” said Biesinger. Vanessa is one of the top two advocates in Florida.

“Domestic violence can be so easy for people to ignore, as it often happens without any witnesses and it is sometimes easier not to get involved. Yet, by publicly speaking out against domestic violence, together we can challenge attitudes towards violence in the home and show that it is a crime, not merely unacceptable.” Honor Blackman.

Domestic violence crosses socio-economic divides. You may find out that someone with a successful career, who is making plenty of money, has been a victim and wonder how is that even possible. “Control is part of what an abuser has over his victim,” said Biesinger. “There are women making money, and yet have never balanced a check book. Their abuser takes the money away from them as a means to keep them believing they are powerless to do anything else.”

“Linda was a force of nature. She knew how important it was to have the pet kennel on-site,” added Biesinger. The kennel will allow families to be with their pets on a daily basis. “Indeed. Part of the agreement is that the families feed, walk and clean up after their pets,” said Biesinger. Families are also encouraged to cook and dine together in one of CASA’s two kitchens and dining rooms. The shelter encourages maintaining as much normalcy to family life as possible.

Sadly, Linda Osmundson did not live to see her vision through. She passed away in 2016. However, we’re certain she’s pleased with the results of her vision.

NOTE: The CASA Pet Kennel program will require monetary donations to operate. On November 8, 2017, THE NEW BARKER and Aerie Lane are co-hosting a private event in Safety Harbor to jumpstart the fundraising campaign. From 6:30p-9p, in a quaint, intimate setting, you will meet with friends and like-minded people to create your very own DIY Aerie Lane signature project for the home, holidays or your pet. A portion of the proceeds will go to the CASA Pet Kennel. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. To register, please click on this link: The New Barker+Aerie Lane Present An Evening For CASA PET SHELTER

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MORE INFORMATION:

PAWS – Pets And Women’s Shelters: The Humane Society of the United States has proposed the PAWS Act (S.322/H.R.909). Under the bill, federal domestic violence protections would include threats and violence against pets. In addition, the bill would extend grant funding to domestic-violence shelters to provide pet housing and include veterinary costs in restitution payments.

RedRover Relief grants help domestic violence victims and their pets escape abusive situations together. To find a domestic violence shelter in Florida that accepts pets, visit RedRover Relief’s website: SafePlaceForPets.org. For information on grants, email info@RedRover.org or call 916.429.2457.

CASA 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 727.895.4912 TTY: 727.828.1269

CASA-StPete.org CASA Collections Thrift Shoppe 1011 1st Avenue North, St. Petersburg Call 727.828.1233 for store hours. All proceeds are used to fund CASA’s programs and services for survivors of domestic violence.

*Excerpt from American Academy of Pediatrics article by Tara L. Harris, M.D., M.S. FAAP.

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A Nose For A Good Dog Story.

Sometimes a good dog story is right under your nose. All you have to do is listen.

by Anna Cooke

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Jack lives his life believing everything happens for a reason. Four years ago, after his Schnauzer died, he knew he wanted to adopt another dog, right away.  He’d lived with dogs all of his life – a couple of Great Danes, a German Shepherd Dog, an Akita named Molly – mostly big dogs with big personalities.

After doing some research online, he found a rescue in Hernando County that pulled mostly smaller dogs from shelters. On the Petfinder.com website link for the rescue, there was his next dog, or so he thought. A friend drove Jack from St. Petersburg to Brooksville. As he finished filling out the adoption paperwork, a car with a family of four pulled into the parking lot. “Two kids jumped out of the car, saw me holding the dog and began crying,” Jack said. “Turns out, the family had fallen in love with the same dog, online as well. They had driven there, as I did, to adopt this dog.”

Jack placed the dog on the ground and asked the two small children if they’d like to pet him. When the dog ran over to the kids, wagging his tail, Jack knew. “It wasn’t meant to be. That dog belonged to those children. I wasn’t going to take that away from them. I figured, my dog was still out there, somewhere, waiting for me.”

Driving back home, Jack began humming a song, out of the blue – “Oh! Susanna.”

“Where did that come from?” exclaimed Jack’s friend, looking over at him.

“I have no idea,” answered Jack.

The next day, Jack visited Pet Pal Animal Shelter and met an unlikely dog that he would take home. Among other health issues, the little Terrier-type female had a hernia, most likely as a result of overbreeding, starting as a puppy herself. She was also very shy. “The shelter volunteers surmised that she most likely had lived her entire life in a cage,” said Jack. She had been pulled, along with other dogs, from a hoarding situation…out of Alabama.

The words to “Oh! Susanna,” the song Jack had been humming the day before, include the line: “For I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee…”

Jack named his new companion Allie.

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What A Difference A Day Makes.

Dogs transforming the lives of humans by serving those who cannot see, and those who have seen too much.

words by Anna Cooke – photography by Laura Allen Studios.

Anna Wintour, Vogue magazine’s editor-in-chief, believes that fashion goes in only one direction, and that is forward. PJ, a yellow Labrador Retriever, is as fashion-forward thinking as any dog we’ve ever met. “She constantly let’s me know that she is the most beautiful Labrador ever. Of course, I believe her,” said Shauna English, her handler.

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Before Shauna met PJ – before she needed PJ, she was a busy professional, successfully juggling two careers; one in real estate, the other in the registrar’s office at Florida Southern University in Lakeland.

Then, the unthinkable happened. During Memorial Day weekend, two years ago, Shauna suffered a stroke in her optic nerves. Diagnosed with Central Retinal Vein Occlusion, Shauna lost vision in one eye. It normally takes two years to lose vision in both eyes. In Shauna’s case, she lost vision in her other eye only two weeks later. As if being legally blind wasn’t enough, the following year, again on Memorial Day weekend, Shauna awoke with a massive headache on one side of her face. Glaucoma had progressed so severely, it necessitated the removal of her right eye. She now wears a prosthetic eye.

Understandably, as the reality of this new darkness set in, Shauna’s world became very small. She had to leave her job, her fiancé walked out on her, she had to give up her car, and moved out of her home. On the rare occasion when she ventured out into the world, Shauna used a white cane, but couldn’t shake the feeling that she was always one step away from falling. “I just stopped participating in life,” she said.

Falling further into the depths of depression, her sleepless nights included late night television. Through public service announcements, she was introduced to Southeastern Guide Dogs and could just make out the two stars of the commercials on the television screen. Gibson was a little black Labrador Retriever puppy and Jackie was a yellow Lab. The PSA’s were on several times a night, five nights a week. She worked up the nerve to call Southeastern Guide Dogs to inquire about a service dog of her own.

Once it was determined that Shauna qualified for her own guide dog and after the paperwork had been approved, she made one special request. She loved wearing black and thought a black Lab, like Gibson in the commercials, would be a fun perk.

With a 98 percent graduate satisfaction rating, Southeastern Guide Dogs is adept at matching the applicant with the right dog. The process is both an art and a science, and sometimes, adjustments must be made. The 20-day, hands-on training takes place at the facility’s Palmetto, Florida campus, as well as venturing from the campus out to city streets, shopping malls and public transportation.

On the second day of her training, Shauna was given a black Lab that matched all criteria to be her service dog. However, it became instantly apparent to the instructors and Shauna that what was previously regarded as a perfect fit for her was not working. The dog was too strong and too quick for Shauna. The trainers noticed the imbalance right away.

Worried, nervous and frightened, Shauna thought it was her fault. What was she doing wrong, she wondered. The instructors were very supportive and assured her that they had the right dog for her.

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A nonprofit with a national reach, Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) trains dogs of the highest pedigree for blind people and injured veterans, providing a premier dog and a lifetime of services at no cost. One of the ways SEGD raises money is through puppy sponsorships. A $5,000 donation sponsorship helps care for the dogs through their journey from puppy to world-class guide dog, service dog or other career.

In addition to quarterly updates on the dog, the sponsor receives recognition in SEGD’s annual report and an invitation to a formal graduation luncheon. The sponsor also has the opportunity to name the puppy. PJ is short for Paula Jean. Her sponsor named the dog in loving memory of his late wife.

On the fifth day of classes, Shauna was about to be introduced to her new guide dog. “I had been crying and was worried that the new dog would detect my tears and sadness, and think that it was because of her,” said Shauna. I tried to pull myself together as best as I could.”

When PJ walked into the room, there was an instant connection, as the dog jumped into Shauna’s arms. PJ licked away the remnants of Shauna’s tears and leaned into her, never leaving her side. Now the training, that would eventually transform Shauna’s life, could commence.

It wasn’t until day 10 of training that Shauna gained complete trust in PJ. The dog, who usually walked on Shauna’s left side, stopped in front of her and would not heel. Frustrated, Shauna tried several times to correct PJ, but the dog stubbornly refused to budge. Walking across Shauna’s path was a black snake that she would have stepped on had PJ not stepped in front of her. It’s what is known as intelligent disobedience. The SEGD dogs are taught 40 different commands, but intelligent disobedience, like the one PJ displayed, is instinctive. These dogs have saved lives, keeping people from falling off docks, or warning them of low hanging branches. And, just think about silent cars, like the Prius, on the roadways.

Shauna eventually moved from the comfort of her hometown in Lakeland to Palmetto with PJ. She now has a new apartment, a new job and is making new friends. “We still have our moments, when I sometimes think I know what’s right. But, PJ knows better than I do,” said Shauna. She confesses that PJ sleeps with her, taking up most of the bed and all of the pillows. Their morning routine includes PJ heading back to bed twice; the first time while Shauna is brushing her teeth. The second time is while she is getting dressed.

Fear of the unknown has a way of creeping in, bringing back the occasional moment of anxiety or depression. “If I have a panic attack, PJ will just put her head in my lap until I calm down. She never stops surprising me.”

“Self confidence is the best outfit,” said Shauna English.

No matter how Shauna is feeling, she is reminded daily, and lives by her late mother’s motivational words: “You can get up, dress up and show up.” And, that is just what Shauna and PJ do, every single day.

As soon as PJ hears her harness, she knows it’s time to go to work. She jumps out of bed to sit in front of Shauna, who is dressed for the day, by now. “I ask her to let me check her breath which is her signal to give me kisses,” said Shauna. After putting on the harness, Shauna accessorizes PJ’s collar with either a big bow or silk flower, color coordinated to match whatever she is wearing.

“The day we met, PJ jumped into my arms and into my heart,” said Shauna. “She rescued me. In the past, when using the white cane, I was always tentative. It never gave me confidence. In fact, I’d found that some people don’t respect the white cane, perhaps seeing it as a sign of weakness. PJ’s confidence now gives me confidence to do more things.”

Each night, as the two are snuggled in bed, Shauna sings a special song to PJ before they fall asleep. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are blue. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

“PJ is the light in my dark world,” said Shauna. “I joke that I came to Southeastern Guide Dogs looking for a soul mate. Instead, I found my heartbeat.”

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Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) 4210 77th St. East Palmetto, Florida 34221 941.729.5665 GuideDogs.org SEGD provides Guide Dogs, Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, Facility Therapy Dogs and Gold Star Family Dogs. SEGD is dually accredited by the two premier, global accreditation bodies: The International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International.