Did you know that nearly 90% of abused women in shelters across Canada report animal maltreatment? And since none of the city’s Violence Against Women shelters can accept pets, many delay leaving their abusers because they fear for their pet’s safety.

Link Coalition Toronto is a registered non-profit that addresses the link between domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse, and elder abuse in the GTA. Their SafePet Program coordinates foster care for the pets of survivors fleeing situations of domestic violence so that no one has to choose between their safety and their pet’s safety.

We caught up with the founder of the organization, Hayley Rose Glaholt, to find out more about what they do and how you can help.

SDTC: Can you share with us the mission of Link Coalition Toronto?

HRG: Our goal is to educate Torontonians about the “link” among domestic violence, animal abuse, child abuse and elder abuse, and to establish programs that provide direct assistance to those who experience abuse.

What made you decide to start this organization? 

It’s something that I had wanted to do for almost fifteen years! I first learned about the link among these types of violence when I was in grad school, and it really stuck with me. While I was in Chicago doing a PhD, I interned at a domestic violence organization for a year so I could learn more about that issue. I moved back to Toronto a few years ago and I got in touch with the founder of SafePet Ottawa, and then I started meeting with Violence Against Women shelters and veterinarians in Toronto. When I got a team/Board of Directors together about six months later, things got super-charged. And the rest is history!

How many Violence Against Women shelters are involved in your SafePet Program?

Right now we have four (Interval House, Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter, the Red Door Shelter, and Julliette’s Place) but are likely to add one or two more in the near future. Interval House was the first to join, and then earlier this week I met with Julliette’s Place in Scarborough to officially welcome them into the program and to go through the procedures for the SafePet program. Our goal is to expand to all GTA VAW shelters, but we need more fosters and more vets before we can do that. We’re working on it!

What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since you launched?

Great question. First, the amount of work that it takes to get a non-profit going. I went into this blind–I just dove in, so progress was a bit slow because I was tackling so many issues and ideas at once. But then when Yvonne (co-founder and Chair of the Board) joined me, she focused on all of the areas that I hadn’t really thought about (e.g., branding, marketing, strategic planning) and things really picked up from there.

The second thing is that it’s better to do this kind of work as a team rather than on your own. I am a very independent person and I started this thinking it would be just me. But since the team got larger, it’s been extremely helpful to have other people to bounce ideas off of. Yvonne and I complement each other really well, and when things get stressful or depressing (the subject we work with can be really tough sometimes), it is important to have someone who “gets” it. Since we both have full-time jobs (I’m a family mediator and Yvonne works for a museum consulting firm), we try to fit meetings in at random times throughout the week and on weekends. It’s a ton of work, but we both find it inspiring and energizing (most of the time, lol…).

How do people get involved if they want to help support, fostering pets or otherwise?

We are always looking for foster homes for our SafePet pets, and people can get that started via our website. We also need volunteers with expertise in fundraising and marketing/social media, so please get in touch with us if that’s your thing!

But the main way we’d love people to help is by talking about this issue to their friends and family; spread the word that domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse and elder abuse tend to happen all at the same time in families, and that many women will not leave their abuser if they can’t bring their pet with them to safety. That is the only way public policy, laws and infrastructure will change so that domestic violence and animal abuse are taken more seriously–by law enforcement, courts, etc.

Whenever I talk to people about Link T.O., they are totally blown away by how obvious the idea of the link is–even though they’ve never thought of it before. That’s how I felt the first time I heard about it as well.

What has this work made you think about more?

Honestly? How lucky I am that I’ve never had to choose between my dog and my safety. My dog Frida is my whole life. We’ve been through thick and thin together. The thought of having to leave her behind in the hands of an abusive person is too much to think about. I don’t want anyone to have to make that decision. Ever.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love that we’ve started something original and unique in Toronto. This city is awesome and there are so many dedicated people working towards ending violence against women, children and animals. We feel lucky to be a part of that mix, and to bridge the gap between these different sectors. It feels really good to be contributing something new and positive to this city.

Find out more info on Link Coalitions’s website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.