HAVEN opens pet center to house four-legged survivors

 The Farber family is joined by friends and HAVEN administrators, including President and CEO Amna Osman and board of directors Chair Sue Perlin, for the pet center’s official ribbon cutting.

The Farber family is joined by friends and HAVEN administrators, including President and CEO Amna Osman and board of directors Chair Sue Perlin, for the pet center’s official ribbon cutting.

Photo by Deb Jacques


By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 19, 2017

 The new pet center allows dogs to have free access to indoor and outdoor kennel spaces while being separated from other animals. Once grass grows, there will be plenty of outdoor playspace for pets and families.

The new pet center allows dogs to have free access to indoor and outdoor kennel spaces while being separated from other animals. Once grass grows, there will be plenty of outdoor playspace for pets and families.

Photo by Deb Jacques

PONTIAC — According to the Humane Society of the United States, between 25 and 40 percent of women who’ve experienced domestic abuse refuse to leave their dangerous living situation for fear of what their abuser will do to their pets.

In fact, a reported 71 percent of pet-owning women who enter a shelter see their worst fear realized: Once they’ve left, their abuser maimed, killed or threatened their beloved animal out of revenge or an attempt to regain control.

But in Oakland County, there’s hope to change those statistics for the better. HAVEN of Oakland County cut the ribbon Friday, Oct. 13, to officially open the Farber Family Pet Center just alongside the organization’s domestic abuse center. 

Senior Director of Programs Emily Matuszczak said HAVEN staff knew more than two years ago, when planning for the new shelter and abuse resource facility got underway, that a pet shelter to house animals of survivors would be a vital amenity. 

“We’ve had a great relationship with (the) Oakland County Animal (Shelter) and Pet Adoption Center, so we weren’t turning animals away,” Matuszczak said. “Many survivors struggle with the decision to leave a pet behind. Pets are often involved in the manipulation of survivors, with abusers threatening to harm, sell or even kill the pets if (a survivor) leaves.”

The new facility, connected to the shelter by a short covered walkway, was funded by the Farber Family Foundation to the tune of $250,000. The family toured the new structure just before the ribbon was cut last week to open the pet center.

“This is great; really amazing,” said David Farber, of Bloomfield Hills.

“It really gives you the warm fuzzies to look around here,” his wife, Nanci Farber, said.

The center includes individual kennels for dogs, with free indoor and outdoor access so pets can get fresh air or use the bathroom on grass at any time of the day. The spacious cat area will include individual “kitty condos,” expected to be installed soon. A “pet spa” makes for easy animal washing, and a veterinary table will be used by pro-bono veterinarians. 

Survivors and families will care for their own animal while they stay at the shelter, making sure they stay fed and exercised, and the kennels well-maintained. But the food, toys, pet bedding and other amenities — like the private space of the “cuddle lounge,” where pets and families can visit together — are courtesy of HAVEN.

Bloomfield Hills resident Jennifer Farber, a member of the board of directors for the Michigan Humane Society, said she was the one in the family who insisted that they help make the pet center a reality for HAVEN.

“This is just an arm of what the women who come here need and what the families need. It’s a great addition to what HAVEN already does,” she said. “This will help families keep that network together and give the kids — and the pets — a sense of normalcy. They escape these abusive situations with nothing. Having the animals here gives them comfort.”

Families will be able to take the bedding and toys their pet used at the center when they’re able to leave the shelter, and HAVEN will provide them with enough pet food to keep the animals comfortable while the survivors get settled in.

Mike Palmer, owner and founder of the chain of Premier Pet Supply stores around metro Detroit, donated the food, toys and bedding in perpetuity. As someone familiar with the pet industry and the bonds that families share with their animals, he said he wanted to contribute in the best way he could.

“Pets truly are an integral part of the family. They provide us endless solace and comfort,” Palmer said. “People facing dark times will often turn to their pets to talk to and confide in more than they will people. For me, there is no better feeling than having a hand in keeping that connection for women and their families.”

The devoted pet center within the abuse shelter is only the second of its kind in the state. Matuszczak said HAVEN staff was consulted for the design of the facility, as were local veterinarians, personnel from the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center, and directors from similar pet centers around the country.

Part of the design included catering to unique needs, like privacy and security, that are imperative for survivors escaping the abusers who might be looking for them.

“We take animal confidentiality into account,” Matuszczak said, adding that the outdoor access for animals will be cut off at night to protect pets. “They are identifiable from photos, so we won’t allow photos of the pet center while pets are housed here. An abuser might see a photo and therefore know where the family is.”

That’s not the case for HAVEN’s visiting therapy dogs, though, who come to the shelter throughout the week to snuggle with residents and display safe pet interactions and behaviors. Therapy dogs Sutton and Cheyenne were on-site for the ribbon cutting to give their seal of pup-proval. 

For more information on HAVEN and the new Farber Family Pet Center, visit www.Haven-Oakland.org.