BOSTON — When dogs and cats become part of the family, they can get caught in the crossfire of problems like domestic violence and homelessness.
It happened to Jordan Ross, a young man from Marblehead. That's why he started Pets Empower, a non-profit with the mission of making sure victims of domestic violence or homelessness -- and their four-legged friends -- can be safe during difficult times.
Watching Ross play with his current dog, Correia, it quickly becomes clear that he loves dogs. His devotion played a role when he returned to Marblehead from Cornell University and ended up homeless.
“When I graduated, I returned home to my parent's house and they were quite abusive and violent," he explained. "Jazz and I, my other dog, actually ended up homeless on the streets of Boston. We couldn't find a shelter that would accept both of us, and Jazz, my black lab, was my most important relationship.”
Ross’ appreciation of the power of the canine-human bond led him to create Pets Empower.
“We allow people to find short-term fostering,” Ross said. “We want to create a whole movement so that people know there is a solution.”
Karen Bell felt like she hit the jackpot when she could get her dog Little Guy into a fostering situation.
Batting Multiple Sclerosis and being homeless, Bell had kept Little Guy with her as she survived on the streets of Harvard Square.
Giving Little Guy up was never an option and shelters don’t allow dogs.
“I was in love with my dogs, so you know, when you have a relationship with your dogs and you're connected to your dogs, and then you come to the point where that is pretty much all you have, that means the world,” Bell said.
Little Guy was placed for a time with Martha Cunningham of Wellesley. She said fostering helped her as much as Karen.
"It helped me out a lot because I had lost my dog. My dog was 13 or 14 years old when she died, and I’ve always had a dog all my life,” said Cunningham.
Karen and Martha recently reunited at Karen’s new apartment in Cambridge.
“I’m so happy that she’s got a nice home and the dog is very, very happy in his home,” Cunningham said.
Sue Webb of Safe Pets, Safe People said just about anyone who loves animals can foster, adding they are always in need of more homes for pets.
“We have some who have an animal and have space to bring another companion animal in with their pet at the same time,” Webb said.
The unconditional love of a dog got Jordan through his darkest days and he hopes by growing Pets Empower, he can provide the same piece of mind to domestic violence survivors and the homeless.
"I absolutely love to see these happy endings and know that we are providing a path to freedom of choice and a life of hope and second chances going forward,” said Ross.
By one estimate, half of domestic abuse victims remained in violent situations because they didn’t know what to do with a pet.
Pets Empower hopes to foster 100 pets this year around greater Boston, and is always looking for people interested in fostering.