These two animal-loving law students have a mission to help victims of domestic abuse—by helping their pets.
Pamela Hart and Megan Senatori met when they applied for the same job. "The employer said, 'I'm probably not supposed to do this, but I have to show you the application of the person I just interviewed—it's identical to yours,'" Hart recalls. (To the question "What's your dream job?" both women answered, "Open an animal sanctuary.") Afterward, Hart tracked down her fellow University of Wisconsin law student and "résumé twin" in the atrium of the building where they'd interviewed. "Megan and I clicked instantly," Hart says. "We went for a coffee and daydreamed about what we wanted to do."
Those daydreams turned into the nonprofit Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV), a Madison, Wisconsin–based network of temporary homes, shelters, farms, and ranches, all in confidential locations. "Most shelters for battered women don't accept animals for a range of reasons—space constraints, liability issues, allergies," says Senatori, now a private-practice attorney in Madison. More than half of women in crisis centers who own pets report that their spouses abused or killed their animals. Up to 48 percent of these victims say they would have fled sooner if only they'd had a safe place to leave their dog or cat. Since Hart and Senatori thought up SAAV as a class project in 2001, they've helped source foster care and no-cost veterinary treatment for scores of animals in the Wisconsin area: from tabbies to horses to a hamster named Faith.
SAAV also works to raise nationwide awareness of the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Minnesota recently passed legislation allowing courts to include pets under restraining orders against abusers; in all, 17 states and D.C. have created such provisions since 2006. "We're taking huge legal steps forward in combating animal cruelty," says Hart, an attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. "Pets are technically classified as property, but we as a society are recognizing they're really members of our families."
"Harming a pet is a symbol of what the abuser can do to the victim," Senatori adds. "Victims understand that. The courts and law enforcement are starting to get it, too."