When Your Pets May Be All You Have:

A Survivor’s Tale

After Global Pet Expo, we did a post about the PAWS Act and the amazing work that Noah’s Animal House is doing to help survivors of domestic abuse stay with their pets after escaping horrible situations. See that full story here.

I was reminded about the PAWS: Share the Story!  campaign recently at BlogPaws with Bayer.


We wanted to do a post dedicated specifically to those women who have struggled or are struggling, and in particular to one woman who was brave enough to share with us her survival story.

Escaping Domestic Abuse When your pets may be all you have

Trish’s Uplifting Story of Surviving Abuse with Her Pets

In November of 2009, after years of hard work, Trish Steffen found herself in a difficult position. She was in an abusive relationship with a man who had stolen all of her money and pushed her to the point where she was getting evicted from her home. She could not believe it was happening to her. She had lost her confidence and she was losing all of her remaining personal items because she no longer had anywhere to put them. She was almost ready to accept that she would have to live in her car. But Trish still had one thing left that was more important to her than anything, her pets. She had a 120lb German Wirehair, a Schnauzer and a cat that meant the world to her and she couldn’t imagine forcing the four of them to all live in her small old car together. Plus what would she do while she looked for a new job and then if she got work. They couldn’t stay in the car. Trish didn’t know what she would do.

A friend put Trish in contact with a counselor named Fern, who she is still in contact with to this day. Fern recommended that she contact The Shade Tree and Noah’s.

“I had never heard of any place like that- that it was a domestic violence shelter that housed 350 women and children and they had a pet kennel on the premises. They said they’d take me and I [finally] had someplace to go! I had never been to a homeless shelter or a domestic violence shelter or anything like that before, that was so far out of my reality – but I was mentally, physically, spiritually and literally bankrupt, I had nothing.”

How a little help goes a long way!

Trish explained in moving detail how The Shade Tree and Noah’s Animal House gave her a safe place to fall.  They provided food and shelter to her and her animals. They gave her resources to get more counselling and a platform to start her life again.

Trish's Survivor Tattoo

“I was able to breathe and I was able to be with my animals and feel like at least I had something. That would have been like losing my children and so to know that they were safe while I went out to look for work and didn’t end up sitting in a hot car was just amazing. I will forever be grateful for Noah’s and the Shade Tree and the opportunity that it gave me to get my feet on the ground again and reclaim my life. They were there when nobody else was.”

Trish went on to explain how the many support women in the shelter slowly gave her back her dignity and she can’t imagine ever being able to thank them enough for all that they did for her.

Trish and Lori

Trish and Lori Nelson, one of the women who Trish thanks for helping her get back on her feet.

“It proves, and I hope that other women hear this, that it doesn’t mean it’s a destination, it’s just a point in time- and that doesn’t define me and who I am today. I didn’t know that at the time, at the time I thought “Oh, that’s it, my life is over”. But I was able to come through it and I have a very fulfilling life today. I’m back with my family, I have the love of my babies, fur babies that is, and I’m just really grateful that I could come and represent that.”

No one should have to choose – How Noah’s Animal House started.

In 2005, Staci Alonso, the founder of Noah’s Animal House, heard a heart-breaking story of a woman refusing to abandon her abusive life. The Shade Tree Center did not admit pets, and she could not leave her kitten with her abuser. Inspired by the woman, Alonso removed the “No Pets Allowed” sign and built Noah’s Animal House in 2007, so no abuse victims feel forced to choose between their safety and their pet’s safety. After nine years, Noah’s Animal House has saved over 1,200 pets from abusive conditions for over 90,000 boarding nights.

Abuse survivor Trish Steffen and her gogeous dog at the Bayer Media Luncheon at Global Pet Expo

A significant unmet need exists across the United States for women seeking safety for themselves and their children from violent relationships. While a strong network of shelters exists to provide them a safe place, there is a need for more domestic violence shelters to provide accommodations for their pets.

Nearly half of abused women stay in their abusive relationships out of concern for the welfare of her beloved pet. Each year, nearly one million animals are abused or killed due to domestic violence, and nationwide, very few shelters offer pet care with their services. Abuse victims are forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and leaving their pet with the abuser. Shelters like Noah’s Animal House offer an alternative.

To read more about Noah’s Animal House and how Bayer is supporting them in making a difference, check out our previous article here.

URIPALS Awareness Tips

URIPALS is another program much like the initiative between NAH and the Shade Tree that you can read more about in our post here. These are their tips for anyone who may be suffering from domestic violence:

  1. Talk to your kids: Teach children that if the family experiences violence, their job is to keep themselves safe first. Provide them with a list of who to call and where to go for help. Identify in advance possible friends or family members who can help care for your pet(s) in case of an emergency.
  2. Get an order of protection, making sure to include children and pets. Keep proof of pet ownership with registration records, vet records, a microchip, and/or a current photo. Make a copy of any important legal or identification documents and give it to a trusted friend or family member.
  3. Set aside as much emergency money as possible (cash is best).
  4. Pack an emergency bag. Include necessities for you and your children, as well as food, supplies, and records for your pet(s).
  5. Use an alternate cell phone (prepaid phone), have a secret phone and keep it in a safe place.  Avoid using a shared or family cell phone.
  6. Use a safe computer.  Consider going to a local library for free computer and internet use or an internet cafe.
  7. Change passwords for everything. Change pin numbers, phone, email and any other important accounts.
  8. Turn off location-based social media posts and avoid disclosing your location online to make it more difficult for the abuser to monitor and track you.
  9. Give an extra set of house keys and car keys to a friend or family member that you can trust.
  10. Get out: If an argument erupts and you fear for your safety, don’t stay and fight with the abuser. Leave immediately.

Domestic violence may happen at home behind closed doors, but signs of abuse are often apparent to family, friends, and members of victims’ communities. Don’t ignore the signs—get help. Whether you are being abused, or are a witness to abuse, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline: 888-279-2211 or 888-252-2890.


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