Marblehead man provides hope for abused animals

Jordan Ross and his dog, Kariya. Item Photo by Owen O’Rourke

By Bridget Turcotte

MARBLEHEAD — A Marblehead native is fighting back for man’s best friend.

Jordan Ross, founder of PetsEmpower, created the program to help people in crisis connect with families or organizations that can temporarily foster their pets while they enter a shelter or access services.

It’s intended to benefit domestic violence survivors who wish to flee an abusive situation, but also offers help to people who suddenly become homeless because of other causes.

“This is a big issue we’re dealing with,” Ross said. “The great majority of shelters don’t accept pets. Up to 65 percent of people, domestic violence survivors, don’t leave because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets.”

After graduating from Cornell University, Ross was faced with violence in his home. He left, but was unable to find a place to stay until he found placement for his black labrador retriever, Jazz. Ross found himself in downtown Boston with the dog.

“I couldn’t find a shelter that would accept him,” he said. “It put me in some vulnerable situations.”

Ross frantically looked for resources that didn’t seem to exist. Eventually, after much research, he found a group home connected to the Pine Street Inn that accepted pets. He bounced from one friend’s house to another for three months, visiting his dog weekly.

“They actually took care of Jazz while I was living with friends and getting myself in a position where I could find a pet friendly apartment,” he said.

Ross continued his research, quickly realizing the lack of available services is a public health concern. He called domestic violence shelters across the state to find out that they recognized the problem, but couldn’t offer a solution.

“There’s no question that it’s a concern,” said Deb Fallon, founder of Portal to Hope, an Everett-based nonprofit that provides emergency shelter services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking crimes. “When you’re going into a shelter program, you cannot take your pets with you.”

If a client doesn’t have a support system in place to take care of their pets, the organization typically tries to find another place for them to go.

“We usually try to find a place for them,” she said. “Most of our clients do not have pets when they are coming to us. One of our advocates has taken in a bird for one of our clients recently. We had another advocate who was able to take in a pet.”

But the shelter is used for emergencies and clients are soon placed in more permanent housing or a longer term shelter, and need to find a new place for the animals.

“There is no question there is a need for this type of service,” Fallon said. “Even with our sister and brother agencies that we partner with, we know that this is an issue. We’re not really able to take the pets in. It’s just something that a lot of agencies, including ours, are not able to do. It’s great to hear that this type of resource is out there.”

Ross said his focus is on connecting survivors of domestic violence with local organizations and fundraising for the organizations, which are often nonprofits.

“I fundraise, provide grants, and look for fosters,” Ross said.

The biggest cost is vet care, which he receives at a reduced rate of  $150 per animal. The pets need to be up to date on their vaccinations for them to be safe to be placed with a family. Food is also provided to volunteer fosters.

He added that taking care of a pet is often beneficial to the foster.

“We prefer to have a family,” he said. “It’s proven that dogs actually do better outside of a shelter. Families are great when one adult is already home with children. Empty nesters might consider it. There are a number of people that this would be a fit for. But we see a shelter as a better avenue than a person staying in an abusive situation.”

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

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