Photography with purpose: Pet photo shoot serves as fundraiser for domestic violence survivors

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's more than just pictures with your four-legged fur babies.

It's a resource many women around the country and particularly here in Chicago could benefit from: a safe place for domestic violence survivors and their pets.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, up to 89% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed or killed their family pet.

It's a statistic that stuck with founder and CEO of The Safe Haven Network, Jessica Katz.

The Safe Haven Network partners with animal shelters and animal rescues to find places for the pets of domestic violence survivors to stay temporarily so that the survivors feel more comfortable going to a shelter to get help.

In the city of Chicago and in most parts of the country, there are no domestic violence shelters that accept pets.

"There's actually only one shelter that does take pets in the entire state of Illinois," said Katz.

Katz said she came across the statistic while she was preparing for a law school presentation and decided she wanted to do something to help those women.

"Up to 66% of domestic violence survivors will delay leaving their abusers because they're afraid of leaving their pets behind," Katz said. "Those of us who have pets I think can understand this because pets are like our babies and a lot of the time for DV survivors that pet may be their only source of companionship and compassion they have in their life."

Companionship, emotional support, love and safety were sentiments that also rang true for photographer Jake Miller when it comes to animals.

When Miller was approached to do the annual winter photo shoot for Pet Care Plus clients, he said he wanted it to make the event more than a photo shoot.

"I think safety is a beautiful thing, so my social mission as an artist and a photographer is to prevent domestic violence, or try to help, so I asked if we could do a fundraiser also," said Miller.

Pet Care Plus has a history of working with rescue pets and agreed the fundraiser would be a great cause.

"Most of us have worked in and with rescue pets so it was a great opportunity to work with a rescue who is a little bit different and with an organization who is more devoted to keeping pets and their people together," said Pet Care Plus Manager Nicki Krilich.

Katz said the organization is currently trying to build their advocate database so more women will have access to resources.

"We're focused on community outreach so we provide training sessions on the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, what that looks like and why it's so important and how you can respond to it," Katz said. "We also hold events for people to learn more about what we do and how they can help."

"I'm big into survivorship, so survivor means we grow from things that happen to us in life," said Miller. "I have a survivor dog, Louie, that I always say rescued me, not the other way around."

The first photo shoot was so successful, the group has decided to hold more sessions throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for February.

Additional video provided by CR Films, also on Facebook.

For more information on how to sign up for you very own fur baby photo shoot, visit the Friends First Photo website at friendsfirstphoto.com.

To learn more about how to get involved or to donate to their mission visit The Safe Haven Network at www.thesafehavennetwork.org.
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