This race is going to the dogs and that's a good thing for domestic violence survivors

Over half of domestic violence survivors don’t leave their situations because they fear for a pet. The Bay Area Women’s Center, with the help of the Judy V. Spencer Fund, is working to change that.

Lindsay Richardson, director of the BAWC says the Judy V. Spencer 5K-9 Run/Walk not only allows people to run with their dogs, the funds raised pay for boarding animals so survivors can get help.

On June 12, runners and walkers will take off from the Bay County Community Center, 800 John F. Kennedy Drive, either with or without their dogs in this unique 5-kilometer race. Entrants in the timed race will receive dog tags and a bandana.

Started in 2013 by Michael Spencer as a way to memorialize his mom, the 5K-9 helps provide for animals, whether cats, dogs, or pocket pets, that need to be boarded while survivors get assistance.

His mom, Judy V. Spencer, was a survivor of domestic violence, leaving her husband with her small children, including Michael, after seven years. She died of ovarian cancer in 2011, and Spencer says it was her dog, Montana, who was by her side through the worst of it.

In the beginning, Spencer thought he would have two funds in his mom’s name, one for pets and one for domestic violence survivors.

Through the planning process, he contacted the BAWC and the Humane Society of Bay County, eventually settling on creating one fund for pets. “They said, ‘We don’t have anything where we have a fund that provides for the animals of domestic violence survivors,’ so that’s where this came from.”

Initially, Spencer set out on his own to raise money. His first fundraiser was a 50-mile run that netted just over $2,700 to seed the Judy V. Spencer Fund.

“I knew I didn’t want to keep on running that distance as a fundraiser,” he says. “We wanted to find something that people from the community could participate in.”

Throughout the last several years the 5K-9 has helped generate revenue to get survivors of domestic violence out of their situations.

Recently, the BAWC took over management of the 5K-9 and hopes to not only see it continue to grow, but make it one of the center’s educational opportunities.

“What Michael’s been able to do in the past was our only source to cover boarding costs for survivors,” says Richardson, who adds she’s grateful for all he has done.
His efforts helped a number of survivors. The BAWC hopes to expand the program to educate people about the service.

“Half of survivors that have pets will stay in an abusive situation just for the sake of their pets,” Richardson says. “Pets are used to inflict more violence on the survivor, so whether the abuser is actually being violent to the pet, or threatening violence toward the pet, either way that makes a survivor not want to leave.”

Funds raised by the 5K-9 help break down that barrier.

“If they’re able to leave with their pet, that’s a great opportunity that we can’t afford to lose,” Richardson says.

Many people fleeing an abusive situation can’t afford to board a pet. At the same time, there often is an emotional aspect to pets that makes it almost impossible for people to leave them behind. Spencer says his mom was able to get through her cancer treatments with her best friend, a dog named Montana. He knows most people feel the same way.

“If that pet is what gets (a survivor) to the next goal and gets them toward that independent and safe life, we want to do everything we can to help them achieve that,” Richardson adds.

A typical year’s boarding costs average around $1,500, says Richardson, and the BAWC doesn’t have the funding to meet the demand.

“We want to connect with survivors who need to leave their homes and let them know we have this available,” she says, and having people willing to run this race can make a difference. “First and foremost, the funding, but also the awareness for the community and for survivors to know we offer this service. The $1,500 is what we’ve spent on an average for a typical year, but it could be much higher if people knew this was available.”

The BAWC received a grant from Red Rover to help pay some of the costs of boarding, but Richardson says that funding has a limit. The 5K-9 will continue where the grant ends.

“That has to be spent within two years, so we have to have something that can sustain this need for survivors.”

Richardson says she still needs a title sponsor to help support the race, and the community is encouraged to participate with or without a dog. To sign up for the race or for more information, go to https://www.bawc-mi.org/5k-9.

“We don’t have any other runs locally that allow dogs in them, so it’s unique that way. We have the opportunity to reach the community in a way that we maybe never have before,” Richardson says.