Schuyler’s PetsEmpower reflection

The day I was born, my parents already owned two dogs. One of the hardest parts of college was, for the first time, not living with pets. I did get to know the regular therapy dogs that came to MIT on a monthly basis, as well as some professors & the dogs they brought to work with them, and some cats that lived in some suites of my dormitory. My parents sent me dog pictures frequently, especially during more stressful periods, like midterm or final exam seasons.

I’m an avid mental health advocate, and in college, worked with others to promote good mental health care and awareness. I worked with peers as directing MedLink (peer health contact & educator) of my dorm and was a member of the MindHandHealth Mental Health & Substance Abuse Advisory Group, an interdisciplinary committee established to improve mental health- and substance-related education, care, access, and policies for the MIT community.

One day at an MIT therapy dog event, I was cuddling with the dogs as usual when Jordan approached me. “I thought I loved dogs,” he said, joking that I was one of the biggest dog lovers he’d seen, and telling me about PetsEmpower. I was both interested in and shocked by what he told me about. I knew about domestic abuse, battered woman syndrome, and PTSD caused by trauma. I knew that millions of Americans suffer domestic violence. Yet somehow, I never knew that many abusers use pets to manipulate their human victims into staying in an abusive relationship. For some reason, I never thought about people who had to choose between staying with their animals and getting healthcare. I had seen how service animals, therapy animals, and everyday pets help humans heal. How could I not want to help people escape abuse or access healthcare in a way that would preserve human-pet relationships? Needless to say, I soon started volunteering for PetsEmpower.

I have been with the group through MassChallenge, from before PetsEmpower became an official nonprofit. I’ve spoken at fundraisers and attended conferences and everywhere I go, I see the same reaction I had. People care. But they don’t know about the problem. I have seen Jordan’s passion, the growth of PetsEmpower, and the good will and motivation of those who hear about what we’re doing. I’ve seen the smiles on the faces of people who we’ve helped.

What PetsEmpower does matters, and I’m so happy that others are understanding that and seeing our mission. But most people still don’t know about us or the problems we’re addressing. We can’t help someone if they don’t know about us, and one way they can know about us is by you telling them we exist. So spread the word. Tell others about PetsEmpower. Do some research on your own or browse around PetsEmpower.org. Maybe even volunteer or donate and attend our events. And if you need help, reach out.

-Schuyler