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The Lyre, Fall 2010 / Saving the Vulnerable

real strong womenSharing the Connection Between Animal Care and Domestic Violence

A self-proclaimed “animal person,” Dr. Maya Gupta, an initiate of the Theta Psi chapter at Columbia University, grew up in rural Indiana caring for pets and riding horses. Maya embraced change as she moved to New York City to pursue a degree in psychology and French. Subways, skyscrapers, crowd after crowd, the urban campus atmosphere was very isolating, but her Alpha Chi Omega family kept her going. Learning of and being involved with Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropic efforts, Maya became very interested in domestic violence awareness. However, her love for animals was her focus, even fostering animals when living off-campus. She never imagined where a simple coincidence would take her and the good that she would create.

A Chance Coincidence

One day on the subway, Maya’s attention landed on a domestic violence hotline poster. Among the list of warning signs was the question: “Has your partner ever threatened your pets?” Before that moment, the connection between domestic violence and pets had never occurred to her. Pursuing her Master’s and Ph.D. in clinical psychology in the area of domestic violence, Maya chose the animal care and domestic violence connection as her topic of study. Throughout the degree programs, Maya found information and gained insight into a side of domestic violence that many do not think about or understand. She was able to speak with domestic violence survivors and learn that the majority admittedly stayed longer in the violent relationship fearing for their pet’s safety. There was no doubt in her mind, Maya wanted to help these victims, both two-legged and four.

Saving Those Who Couldn’t Save Themselves

Today, Maya serves as the executive director of Ahimsa House, Inc.—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose name means “nonviolence” and is dedicated to helping the human and animal victims of domestic violence across Georgia reach safety together. The organization was created to fill a gap that was just not there. The organization offers general public outreach and education, alongside its main purposes—Ahimsa House offers an initial 60 days of assistance in fostering and kenneling a victim’s pet(s), assists in orders of protection for victims, provides police escorts to retrieve pets from the home, provides a 24-hour crisis line, and aids the victim in finding pet-friendly housing by negotiating pet-fees and policies with rental properties and management. No pet, no matter the kind, is ever turned way. In 2009, 89 percent of pets were reunited with their safe, loving families.

Maya has worked to grow the organization’s purpose, and now, veterinary care and legal support are major aspects of the organization. Besides the care of abused animals, there is a large focus on veterinary forensics. Even if an animal has passed away, the organization’s partners are able to declare whether it is in fact abuse. This has been extremely helpful in court proceedings, both as an example of prior violent histories and to charge domestic violence offenders with animal abuse—a charge that can lengthen a prison sentence or create one if a charge of domestic violence is not accepted. Maya also works with animal law attorneys to prevent the abuser from using the law to their benefit and to
establish ownership for the victim.

Awareness, Outreach and Hope

Maya is completely hands-on with her work, answering calls on the 24-hour crisis line, transporting animals, training other agencies and domestic violence shelters, speaking with field workers, and more. “Even if I wanted to sit behind a desk all day, I couldn’t,” states Maya. She understands that if agencies—those aiding victims, those aiding children, those aiding pets, and more—work together, awareness will spread much faster and domestic violence cases may be noticed much sooner. Because
of this, Maya educates professionals in the fields of domestic violence and social care on the connection between animal care and domestic violence.

Alongside her work with Ahimsa House, Maya is a member of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence Board of Directors, is working to raise national awareness of the animal care and domestic violence connection through the National Links Coalition, and is the Chair of the Section on Animal-Human Interaction for the American Psychological Association.

Maya still has her eyes on the future and the growth of Ahimsa House. With over 16,000 nights of safety provided since 2004, the organization continues to offer safe haven for the pets of domestic violence victims. Sharing the connection between animal care and domestic violence is a major priority for Maya and she hopes to continue the efforts, both amongst professionals and the court systems. And when she gets tired, all she has to do is think of every time a pet is reunited with its family—a happiness she can’t even describe.

To learn more about Maya or Ahimsa House, visit ahimsahouse.org.

2 Comments

  1. Victoria Lopez-Herrera |

    When I received my copy of The Lyre I was so pleased to see Dr. Maya Gupta on the cover!!! This is a great article and Dr. Gupta is clearly living the commitment of Alpha Chi’s everywhere to be Real.Strong.Women.

    Victoria Lopez-Herrera
    Associate Director for Fraternity & Sorority Life
    Columbia University

  2. Julie Hall |

    As a Sister in Alpha Chi Omega’s Theta Psi Chapter at Columbia, and as survivor of domestic violence, I was very touched by this story. Great work Dr. Gupta! And please, come back to Columbia to visit soon!