It was about a year ago when a woman staying at Shelter House, called home to check in on her animals. To her horror, she found out her husband had shot and killed one of her dogs. It was this incident that spurred executive director of Shelter House Michelle Sperzel, into action.
"We had to do something about this," she told The Log. "It's important for those who come to the emergency shelter, especially the children, to have piece of mind that the person who was hurting them isn't hurting the pets."
Shelter House, a local refuge for victims of domestic violence serving Okaloosa and Walton counties, is constantly seeking ways to remove barriers and allow those suffering domestic abuse the ability to break free and seek help with minimal consequences.
This is why the non-profit organization added a kennel for dogs and cats to stay at the shelter.
"It's hard for women to leave their animals behind, because they know that they will be abused," Sperzel said. "Animals are the first victims once women leave the house."
With money from the Dugas Foundation, American Kennel Club and Red Rover, the Shelter House opened the Kind Heart Kennels in the beginning of October. The Kind Heart Kennel includes a heated and cooled dog kennel, an indoor cat room and plenty of back yard space enclosed with an eight-foot fence. Pet-friendly bedrooms are equipped with HEPA filters for residents with pocket pets as well.
As the kennel plans to house, feed and provide veterinary services for pets of more than 400 women, children and men who stay at the shelter annually, Shelter House is looking for groomers and vets to partner with in the future.
"We anticipate that many of the pets coming to us will be injured," Sperzel said.
Already H.E.A.R.T Animal Rescue, Furry Fanatics, and 3 Dogs & a Chick have signed on as supporters.
Bringing the Kind Heart Kennel program to Shelter House not only keeps pets out of harms way, but provides comfort to shelter residents. And with one more barrier broken down, more men, women and children can get the help they need.
"The easier it will be, we can save a life free of domestic violence," Sperzel said.