Did you know that there are over 10 million survivors of domestic abuse in United States and that one in three households of those survivors have a pet? When a person is making a decision to leave an abuser often times they stay because they do not want to leave their beloved pet.
Join us today for inspiring conversation about how Orazie Cook came up with a solution to help both our furry friends as well as survivors of domestic abuse heal with her nonprofit Praline’s Backyard Foundation.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Praline’s BackYard Foundation does?
Orazie Cook: We house pets of domestic violence survivors anywhere in the country, be a pet boarding facilities and pet foster homes. One of the barriers for a survivor leaving an abuser is lack of housing for their pet. So we want to eliminate that barrier. So they do not they have to worry about housing for their pet and they feel secure.
What a survivor does is really try to assess what resources are available to them when they do leave. One thing the person is trying to assess is what services are available for their pet. We recognize that one in three households have a pet. What that means is that almost half of all survivors have a pet as well. When they enter into a situation where they need to leave an unhealthy living situation the victim wonders, do I leave my pet with this abuser? We recognize that a person who abuses a person often will abuse a pet as well.
This person battles with the dilemma am I going to leave my pet with this person who may harm the pet, or do I stay because I want to protect my pet? Pets are a huge source of comfort to a person trying to leave an abuser. We want to eliminate that conundrum that a survivor has to go through. We hope to empower them by knowing that when they’re ready to leave their pet will be taken care of when they are ready to leave.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Praline’s Backyard Foundation?
Orazie Cook: I couldn’t have told you five years ago that I would be leading a nonprofit. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have told me that I would own my own company either. This all started with the idea that I wanted to have a facility to foster dogs. I had volunteered with domestic violence shelters and at the Humane Society. I knew that I always wanted to house pets of domestic violence survivors because of my experience at the shelter and humane society.
When I was at the women’s domestic violence shelter a lot of survivors would go back to be with their abuser because they want to be with their pet, not to be with abuser. The shelter I had that I volunteered at did not house pets or make any level of accommodations for pets. I have a graduate degree but I never thought about how do we solve this problem?
I volunteered at the Humane Society and saw survivors come and relinquish ownership of their pet because they were going into a living situation that did not accept pets. However, that’s not what they wanted to do so they made that a very difficult choice. I knew there there has to be a better way but just didn’t know what that way was. During COVID we saw the rise of domestic violence. I started sharing pet fostering stories on social media and then was trying to build a pet facility at the same time. People started saying, you should become a nonprofit. I ended up applying to become a nonprofit and we became a nonprofit.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Orazie Cook: The biggest challenge I faced and I continue to face it is raising awareness on this issue. Honestly, I feel like if people knew that lack of housing for pets, keeps us a domestic violence survivor with an abuser, they would help. In my experience, people are so generous. People would open their hearts, their minds and their wallets to assist a person because we either like people or we like pets.
My goal is to educate 10 million people, hence why I’m on your podcast to really educate 10 million people. And I feel like that 10 million represented 10 million people each year who experienced domestic violence in the United States alone. We recognize that less than 20% of domestic violence shelters make accommodations for pets. So we need more resources available for survivors with pets. I don’t want any survivor today in 2024 to leave their pet with an abuser when we have provision for them through pet boarding facilities and pet fosters across the US.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Orazie Cook: When I first started this, I would get so entrenched in people’s lives. I had to really, almost disassociate because I would just get so emotionally wrapped up into this person’s life. Especially when they didn’t leave an abuser, it just hurts. But I had to recognize people move at their own pace. I want to support them in that movement because I don’t want them to go back. We are at the beginning of their journey. That’s when I recognized I really needed somebody to debrief with this, so I could keep making this happen.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and what your impact has been?
Orazie Cook: In terms of impact, there is the survivor, their children and their pets. There are multiple levels of our work. We can put a pet into a pet boarding facility to provide emergency housing for a pet for seven days until we find a long term Foster. So that’s a level one level of impact.
We currently have 47 pets right right now that are being fostered. And there are about 20, something that are currently being boarded across the US. Those are small numbers. These 70 families that have left an abusive situation. And they’ve got the empowerment to know that their pet is okay. And they can seek safety and assurance for themselves at a shelter or during this transition period without their pet.
We’ve changed I’ve helped change the destiny of that person’s life. They have left an abuser, that their children have left that abuser so their children are less likely to become abuser. The real impact can never be measured in a sense, but to know that I’ve impacted that just one person is enough.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Orazie Cook: I would love to have a mobile app where survivor could go into this app and say, My name is Susie and I have a 50 pound lab and someone that’s in Susie’s area can say oh, we’re available to house Susie’s pet. The app would provide resources for that survivor in terms of what shelters are available, what other resources they may need as they leave their abuser. And so if I had an app, it’ll make it it was a really a succinct process on your phone. They will get alert that somebody in their area needs a place to for a pet or wants to help someone in their community.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Orazie Cook: I believe in the community and I believe in partnership. I’ve worked around the world, I worked in public health for over 20 years. I think I’ve continued learning about myself. I never thought I would be this leader or thought I would be on a podcast. I wasn’t a social media person before the foundation. My life is pretty private.
However, my goal is to raise awareness to 10 million people. So 10 million people will eventually see my face. When I see the number of followers, and I hate the word followers, because I’m not God but its my job to be a messanger and get the word out and help.
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