LEWISTON – Safe Voices Executive Director Elise Johansen and Director of Shelter and Housing Noelle Coyne recently appeared on “Oh Behave! with Arden Moore” – the longest running pet podcast in America.
In their January episode, along with Red Rover President & CEO Nicole Forsyth, Johansen and Coyne discussed the importance of pet-friendly shelter options and organizational policies for survivors of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. Safe Voices, which has been serving survivors in Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford Counties since 1977, partners with Red Rover and Rescue Rebuild to equip each of its emergency shelters to welcome survivors and their pets.
Pets play an important role in the healing process for survivors and in the organizational mission for Safe Voices. Johansen and Coyne shared with Moore that, in addition to pet-friendly policies at their shelters, Safe Voices is a pet-friendly employer, as well. In addition to many staff bringing their pets with them to work, Safe Voices even added two therapy dogs to the organization in 2022.
The first, a golden retriever named Ollie, joined Safe Voices in the summer of 2022 and began his therapy certification training in the fall alongside his owner/handler, Katrina White, who is Safe Voices’ sex trafficking and sexual exploitation outreach coordinator.
Even though he’s still a few months away from completing his training, Johansen said, “He has already made a profound impact on survivors and staff.”
The effects that pets have on survivors is profound, said Johansen, and it is too often exploited by abusers. “Abusers are going to use anything and everything in front of them, whether it’s a child, a job, or a pet. They’re going to use it to assert power and control.”
This, Moore said, leads to over 70% of survivors reporting that their abuser injured, killed, or threatened family pets in an effort to exert control, a fact that all three guests confirmed and cited as one of many reasons it is vital to create more pet friendly shelter options.
As the first shelter in the state to become pet-friendly, Safe Voices has led the way for other domestic violence resource centers to do the same, and Safe Voices staff have become experts in the field of how to integrate pet-friendly policies with survivor needs and sheltering practices. Theirs are no longer the only pet-friendly shelters in Maine, and for Coyne, that is the next big goal.
“We’re really looking forward to making Maine the first state in which every domestic abuse shelter is pet-friendly,” she said.
The full podcast episode is about thirty minutes long and can be heard at bit.ly/SV_Pets.