A Michigan mother and her four children who fled their abuser earlier this month will have something extra special to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.
Their beloved cat, Tabitha, is en route to the family’s new location and will be reunited with them just in time for the holiday weekend.
Tabitha was left behind when the mother and children packed a few simple belongings and rode buses and trains many states away to escape a violent household.
The abuser ended up abandoning the family’s home—with Tabitha in it. Fortunately, a concerned neighbor rescued the cat, and contacts with the family called The Humane Society of the United States for help in returning Tabitha to the family.
A representative from the society remembered hearing Bobette Schrandt, LACASA’s president and CEO, speak at a conference about the agency’s Safe Pet Place, which shelters the pets of abuse victims. The society placed a call and asked if LACASA could house the cat.
LACASA accepted the request. Then the local nonprofit began to explore how the cat could be safely reunited with its owners. Security and confidentiality of the family were paramount considerations.
“We asked the community for help in raising funds to cover the costs of transporting Tabitha thousands of miles away,” said Schrandt. “As always, the residents of Livingston County rallied with cash donations and also brought in much-needed provisions for our pet shelter.”
Monetary donations from the community totaled nearly $1,000, which will cover the cost of gas, meals and lodging for the cat’s escort during the long trip. A representative of the Humane Society was selected to make the journey with Tabitha.
The once-abandoned cat was in need of all essentials, including a travel crate, bedding, collar, bowls, food, litter, a litter pan, treats and toys.
To cover the cost of Tabitha’s supplies, Kyle Johnson, owner of Pet Supplies Plus on Grand River in Howell, made a generous donation.
“Kyle donated everything Tabitha needed for her trip, plus a surplus of additional supplies for the family to have upon the cat’s arrival,” said Schrandt.
“The donation from Pet Supplies Plus allowed us to send along two gift cards worth $400 for the family to use for essentials as they start a new life,” Schrandt said. “We are so thankful to Kyle for his compassion and generosity.”
According to Schrandt, staff members at domestic violence shelters around the country have found that children may experience additional trauma when separated from beloved pets.
National statistics show that batterers often inflict cruelty on family pets, or threaten to, as a way of controlling victims and coercing them to stay in abusive situations.
“Research tells us,” Schrandt said, “That the human-animal bond can facilitate healing, aid attachment, and provide a source of comfort for survivors and their children. That’s why it is so important to keep victims and their pets together, and out of harm’s way from the abuser. ”
LACASA Center was the first agency in Michigan to offer a safe harbor for the pets of abuse victims, and remains one of only a few in the nation to provide such a program.
Legislation currently is under consideration at the state and federal levels to provide additional protection and resources for victims who must cross state lines to flee their abuser.
Michigan Senior State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, Jill Fritz, said that the bills would extend the reach of Personal Protection Orders (PPOs), and the federal bill would create grant funding to aid with victim relocation costs.
The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act is designed to bridge the gap between the tremendous service needs for domestic violence survivors with pets, and the ability of agencies to meet those needs, Fritz said. The pending bills are H.B. 4478 in Michigan and the PAWS Act, H.R. 1258/S. 1559, in Congress.
“This legislation would earmark funds to cover special circumstances, like the one this family and LACASA just faced,” said Fritz. “We need to provide additional resources for victims who, quite literally, are running for their lives.”
“The Humane Society of the United States was tremendously grateful for the opportunity to help this sweet, loving cat get back to her family in time for the holidays,” Fritz said.
“We encourage the passage of state and federal legislation,” she added, “So that domestic violence victims and their pets are better protected in these situations.”
Schrandt said state and federal bills like these will help ease the burden of victims and domestic violence shelters during extenuating circumstances.
Recently, Schrandt was in contact with the out-of-state domestic violence shelter which has been assisting Tabitha’s family.
“The director there told me how brave this woman was to uproot her children and flee thousands of miles away to escape an abusive situation,” said Schrandt. “This mother doesn’t know anyone in her new location. But, she took her family far enough away so they could feel safe.”
On the day Schrandt placed a phone call to Tabitha’s mother, letting her know that transportation arrangements had been made, it was an emotional conversation.
“When I spoke with the mother, she was in tears,” said Schrandt. “I could hear the children in the background. They were so happy to learn that their much-loved cat would be arriving soon. The mom asked us to thank everyone for their help and support. She was overcome with gratitude.”
The family feared they would never see their pet again, Schrandt said. “This truly is a Thanksgiving miracle for them.”