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This Local Nonprofit Finds Foster Homes For Pets When Their Humans Need Help02:56
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PetsEmpower's founder and executive director, Jordan Ross, with his dog Kariya. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
PetsEmpower's founder and executive director, Jordan Ross, with his dog Kariya. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

After graduating from Cornell in 2005, Jordan Ross was forced to leave his home due to domestic violence. His parents were threatening him — and his dog.

“I found myself homeless on the streets of Boston with my best friend, my black lab Jazz,” Ross said. “Thankfully, I escaped. I had the strength to do it, but I was shocked there were really no resources to help me find placement for the pet.”

Ross is not alone in scrambling to find help for both himself and his pet. Getting help when dealing with a crisis like substance abuse or domestic violence is hard enough.

Most shelters, rehabs and hospitals do not allow pets. So people getting treatment are faced with a difficult decision: Do they forgo the treatment? Can they find someplace for the pet to stay? Do they have to abandon the pet completely?

Ross was one of the lucky ones. The Stapleton House for Men Transitioning Out of Homelessness in Boston took Jazz in while he got his life together. The men living in the shelter took care of the dog, and Ross said both sides benefited.

“It was reinforcing that they were capable too of taking care of a pet, and it united the group home,” he explained. “I visited weekly and then was able to reunite [with Jazz] three months later after I got back on my feet.”

A little more than a decade later, Ross founded PetsEmpower so other people wouldn't have to choose between their self care and their pets. The nonprofit works as a go-between for people in crisis and existing pet fostering agencies in the state. When low-income residents need temporary pet care, they reach out to Ross, and he connects them with the appropriate group. He said it usually takes less than a week from when someone contacts him to get the pets fostered.

One of the agencies Ross works with is Safe People Safe Pets. Sue Webb, an animal control officer in Wellesley, works for that group. Like Ross, she said she was drawn to the cause because of personal experience.

“I'm a [domestic violence] survivor. I saw the needs in support groups of especially women, who, their pets were emotional support for them, and it meant so much,” Webb said. She’s been working to help people fleeing from violent situations with their pets for around a decade.

Both her group and PetsEmpower require that people working with them have a social worker or advocate.

“We have the expertise for the animals, but not the people,” Webb said. “They need to be working with somebody who’s gonna help them find housing, a job, whatever it is they need.”

Ross said he’s affiliated with around 100 domestic violence agencies in the Greater Boston area. Now, he’s shifting his focus to partnering with rehab clinics that can help him reach the growing number of people seeking treatment in the opioid epidemic. While he builds those relationships, he’s still working to find foster homes for as many pets as he can.

One of the people he recently helped is Courtney Giguere. She reached out to Pets Empower in January when she and her daughter needed to find a new place to live. They were having a hard time finding an apartment that would allow them to keep their cats.

“My parents were moving to Arizona. I had to get rid of my cats. I lived with them, and I couldn’t figure out a fast plan [in which] I could keep the cats and live somewhere," she said. “Everywhere was no cats, no cats, no cats."

Less than a week after reaching out to PetsEmpower, Giguere’s cats had a foster home. Three months later, they were all reunited at her new home in Brockton.

Giguere is one of PetsEmpower’s nearly 30 success stories in the last year. Ross said he hopes to more than triple that number in the next one.

“I'm so grateful and blessed," said Giguere, "and I can go home tonight and know my cats are there because of the program."

This segment aired on June 8, 2018.

Sara Rose Brenner Twitter Associate Producer, Morning Edition
Sara Rose is senior news writer of WBUR's Morning Edition.

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