“My husband put a knife to my throat in front of my kids and the animals,” Reese, of Clayton County, said of the 2010 incident. “My dog was just pushing up against him and made a noise to let him know, ‘I’m not playing with you,’ then he stepped back because he thought he was going to get bit.”
After that, Reese knew she had to get out of her abusive relationship, but she refused to leave her two dogs, Capone and Sophie, behind.
“I didn’t want him to do anything to them if I left or have to give them up to animal control,” Reese said.
Then, she found out about the Ahimsa House, an Atlanta-based nonprofit refuge center focusing solely on the connection between domestic violence victims and animal cruelty. Ahimsa means “nonviolence” in Sanskrit. Its office is in Decatur.
The house found a foster home for Reese’s dogs while she stayed in a shelter for 70 days.
“We know a lot of domestic violence victims never reach out to seek help, said Ahimsa House Executive Director Maya Gupta, of Kirkwood. “They won’t think about seeing safety themselves until they know their pets will be safe."
Gupta said up to 71 percent of domestic violence victims report their abusers hurt or killed their pets.
To raise more awareness for the combination of human and animal abuse, the house is hosting the inaugural Walk, Wag, n’ Run 5K Run and 1-Mile Fun Run Aug. 25 starting at Lenox Park in Buckhead.
“My goal is to raise $10,000 and I think we’re going to top that actually,” said event chair and Buckhead resident Carole Baker, who said every penny will go to the house’s effort.
Gupta said the house is the only one of its kind in Georgia and it has about 150 volunteers statewide who help by fostering animals, transporting animals from abusive situations and delivering pet food and supplies.
The animal victims range from dogs and cats to horses and turtles.
“Any animal that the human victim cares about can become a target for abuse,” Gupta said.
Domestic violence survivor Emily Christie opened the house in 2004 after enduring years of abuse as a child and an adult, Gupta said.
“She experienced abuse of pets at both points in her life,” Gupta said. “It keeps human victims from escaping abuse because they are afraid of what will happen to the pet. Her boyfriend would threaten, if she tried to leave, [that] he would kill her cat, so [the reason] she stayed two years longer was because of that.”
Although Christie escaped safely with her cat, there was one problem: most domestic violence shelters do not allow animals.
“It turned into a mission,” Gupta said. “No one should be forced to make the choice between their own personal safety and [the] safety of one of their cats.”