Ellen Dowdy, volunteer and president of the board of Rescue One, with Waylon, a dog up for adoption through the nonprofit organization. Waylon is up for general adoption. Rescue One also offers a fostering program, called SafePet, providing temporary homes for pets of victims of domestic violence. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Part of a series on domestic violence in Springfield and Greene County. Need help? See related story.

The officer responded to the home in Battlefield around 9 p.m. May 23, 2022, on a report that an animal had been stolen. 

The victim explained she arrived home around 8 p.m. to find her daughter “crying, red faced, overheated and locked in a bedroom” while the suspect, a man named Billy, was passed out on the couch, the probable cause statement said. 

(By law, the names of the victims of domestic violence are redacted from public view in probable cause statements. The Springfield Daily Citizen does not know the name of the victim. The Daily Citizen chose not to use Billy’s last name to further protect the identity of the victim.)

Unable to wake Billy, the victim took her daughter and left.

Soon after, Billy texted her: “Say goodbye to your dog forever. Last time u will ever see him. Your dog is dead because of you.” 

Billy also texted a photo of the woman’s dog in the front seat of his vehicle. 

According to the probable cause statement, the officer asked the victim if Billy had any rights to the dog. She said no.

The daughter said Billy had told her he was going to kill the dog with a handgun.

Billy then texted to the victim “you will learn your actions have reactions.”

Some time later, the victim got a call from Billy while she was on the phone with the responding officer. Since she did not answer Billy’s call, he sent a text that read: “I was going to let you talk to him before I killed him.”

When she got off the phone with the officer, Billy called again.

This time she heard Billy talking to the dog and then a gunshot.

Animal abuse common tactic to control victims

Abusers often use pets to control and abuse their victims, according to those who work with victims attempting to flee. In fact, numerous studies have been done on the link between acts of cruelty to animals and violence toward others, including domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. 

This research has led to changes in animal cruelty laws across the country and crimes against animals are being taken more seriously. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund website, all 50 states and four territories have enacted felony animal cruelty provisions for first-time offenses, up from just six jurisdictions in 1990.

Cosette Grooms, advocate office coordinator for Harmony House, said harming pets is a common and serious problem for victims who are trying to get away from their abuser. 

“Once an abuser kind of feels powerless or they feel like somebody might try to leave,” Grooms said, “they will reach for anything they can to maintain control or get control back. 

“Pets and children are going to be primary ways they try to reclaim that control.”

Children’s Division looks for signs of pet abuse

Greene County Children’s Division investigators told the Daily Citizen that when they come into a home to follow up on a report of child abuse or neglect, they look closely at the pets in the home. 

This is a photo of Lisa Crawford, circuit manager for Greene County Children’s Division.
Lisa Crawford is the circuit manager for Greene County Children’s Division. (Shannon Cay)

“You look to see if they have proper care, proper shelter, if they have food, water. Are they acting like they are afraid of someone?” said Lisa Crawford, circuit manager for Greene County Children’s Division. “It can be an indicator that there’s more going on. It’s used as another way to abuse someone.”

Stacy Burdette and Sarah Willyard, both investigators with Children’s Division, said it’s common for children to confide in them about their pet being hurt.

“They will talk about it,” Willyard said.

“That is another factor causing trauma on the child,” Burdette said. “I’ve seen it quite often in cases I’ve had.”

Survivor recalls beloved pet and impossible choice forced by ex

Lisa Saylor is a survivor of domestic violence who has suffered years of stalking and intimidation from her abuser. Two years ago, she was among the survivors who convinced Missouri legislators to change the law to allow for lifetime protection orders against their abusers. 

Saylor believes her ex killed her beloved Chihuahua, Tanner.  

“I can’t say that he killed the family dog. I can tell you that he showed up at my new apartment with the dog saying that he (the dog) had been poisoned,” Saylor recalled, “and that I had two options — to get in the car with him to go get veterinary assistance or let the dog die.”

This is a photo of a small dog named Tanner.
Lisa Saylor’s beloved Chihuahua, Tanner. (Photo provided)

Saylor feared what her abuser would do to her if she got in his vehicle. She shoved some cash out the door and begged him to take the dog to the vet. But she quickly closed and locked the door. She never saw Tanner again. 

“I made a choice to be a mom to my kids,” she said, crying. “At that point in my life, I think you pick your battles and my kids needed a mom more than we needed our dog.”

Rescue One works with Harmony House to provide temporary foster homes for pets of domestic violence victims. Pictured are Ellen Dowdy, left, president of the board of directors of Rescue One, and Jared Alexander, executive director of Harmony House. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Rescue One creates foster program for victims’ pets

Rescue One, a local foster-based animal rescue group, recently partnered with the Greene County Family Justice Center to create the SafePet Program, a pet fostering program for victims of domestic violence. 

SafePet allows victims of domestic violence to temporarily place their pet in a safe and confidential foster home while they go into an emergency shelter like Harmony House. 

When the survivor is able to transition into their own place, they are then reunited with their pet. 

“For a large majority of our clients, their abusers will use any tactic that they think will work to try to gain power and control,” said Jamie Willis, director of the Family Justice Center. “A lot of abusers use their children and their animals as a way to control the victim because it’s something that they really care about.

“A lot of our clients that are eligible for shelter that are in a very dangerous situation are afraid to leave their animals behind,” she said. “They’re afraid that their abuser will either harm or potentially kill their animals as a way to maintain power over them.”

Animals in the SafePet Program are typically in foster homes for two weeks to two months. During that time, all food, supplies and vet care are provided by Rescue One. 

You can help

Volunteers are needed to provide foster care for animals through the SafePet Program. If someone wants to support this program but is unable to foster, they can make a tax-deductible donation to Rescue One to help provide that food and supplies. 

Rescue One does not take animals in from the public for this program. All animals come through the Greene County Family Justice Center and local domestic violence shelters. 

Victims must first reach out to the Greene County Family Justice Center for information and to start the application process.

The foster home is confidential. Not even the victim knows exactly where their pet is, but they do get weekly updates. 

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald