Opening doors for pets

May 29, 2018

After graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in economics, Marblehead native Jordan Ross said he returned home to an abusive home life.

At the time, Ross, who is now 37, had a black Labrador retriever named Jazz that he loved.

However, Ross was not working, had no money and his friends could not help him. But he was unwilling to give up his best friend.

"I couldn't find a shelter to enter with my dog, and so we actually ended up homeless," Ross said. He was homeless for six months, hanging around South Station in Boston with Jazz by his side.  

Ross faced the same scenario victims of domestic violence face. Many shelters for abuse survivors won't allow pets, and most animal shelters don't temporarily house pets for their owners. 

The experience prompted Ross to start PetsEmpower, a nonprofit that arranges for temporary pet fostering for domestic violence survivors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

"What's quite unique about our program is that people can provide social impact philanthropy just by fostering a pet," Ross said. "You don't have to donate money, and it's this really unique relationship, where not only are they saving the pet's life, they are saving the survivor's life, and they are allowing the pet and ... the pet parent to reunite."

Abuse victims fear being separated for good from their pets by putting them up for adoption in an animal shelter, he said.

"That's part of the shelter system that is broken," said Marblehead resident and Chet's Video and Candy Shoppe co-owner Carrie Thomas, a member of PetsEmpower's board of advisers who is active in the animal rescue community. "You can't surrender an animal and get it back."

Today, PetsEmpower is working with Wellesley-based Safe People Safe Pets to provide short-term fostering for pets of victims of domestic violence.

So far, PetsEmpower has fostered 23 pets. The short-term goal is to foster 100 pets on the North Shore and in Greater Boston. Ross said he hopes to make connections with the pet industry to help with the cost of food and veterinary care for the animals.  

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