Outside people who have experienced domestic violence, few understand how difficult it is to leave a violent partner.
Fewer still understand why victims stay as long as they do. The reason for the lack of understanding, according to Verde Valley Sanctuary Executive Director Matthew Kelley, is because the factors that contribute to domestic violence are so varied.
Abusers themselves, Kelley said, are often “wounded people” who struggle with a lifetime of trauma. Though many victims and their children suffer from a lack of education and economic opportunity, many are educated professionals with established careers — the kind of people we assume are more than capable of making difficult decisions.
“The concept of ‘If you don’t leave, you’re weak,’” Kelley said. “Some of the bravest women stay.”
Ties built over the course of a relationship, in particular, are key to the decision to stay with an abusive partner: Preserving economic, religious, cultural and familial ties are the major reasons a victim seeks to either correct or otherwise manage an abuser’s behavior.
And though it may come as a surprise, another factor influencing the decision to leave is pets. Upward of 50 percent of all potential victims seeking shelter — that is, of the minority who will seek shelter from an abuser at all — have animals they don’t want to leave, according to Kelley.
Only about 3 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide accept pets. Excepting service animals, Verde Valley Sanctuary likewise does not accept pets.
It is a significant hurdle. Time and again, according to Kelley, Verde Valley Sanctuary has tried to accommodate pet owner victims, by either boarding out their pets or finding some other accommodation, to no avail.
“Most people don’t want their pets in temporary foster care,” Kelley said. “It’s very hard for non-pet people to understand [but] pets give people meaning .... People want their pets with them, on the bed as they sleep or on the floor.”
If Kelley has his way, the sanctuary’s pet policy will soon change. To that end, Verde Valley Sanctuary is looking to purchase a piece of property adjacent to the shelter and turn it into a pet friendly, four-bedroom shelter.
Kelley estimates the purchase cost to be approximately $120,000, with additional modification costs of $60,000, but added that, “It’s more than just pets. We have to expand our services [to that building].”
According to Kelley, the first year’s operation cost will be $45,000, meaning that the amount needed, in total, is $225,000. Verde Valley Sanctuary has established a dedicated capital fund toward this goal.
For Kelley, the goal matches an overall push within his organization: The 28-bed Verde Valley Sanctuary facility — housed at an undisclosed location — has made significant gains recently, updating to meet nationally recognized practices for domestic violence shelters, but Kelley wants the nonprofit to be even better.
“I want the best in country,” Kelley said, praising the communities of the Verde Valley for their substantial support.
“Domestic violence is not really a private matter .... I kind of consider it to be a thermometer of a community’s health.
“We deserve the best .... Cottonwood is a remarkable place. It’s not a little redneck town. It’s quite progressive. We have a really well integrated network of social services.”
Those interested in contributing are asked to call 634-2511. For more information on Verde Valley Sanctuary, visit verdevalleysanctuary.org.