‘Trifles’ of Creature Comfort

A 1916 play Trifles was written by American journalist Susan Glaspell. It is a murder mystery based on a real event in Iowa at the turn of the century. A man is found Girl with a canary, 1765 painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuzestrangled. The sheriff and a neighbour man search the house and outbuildings, can’t find anything. Their wives are there too. They are friends of the widow, who is also prime suspect. The women look around the areas that the men consider unimportant – the kitchen and sitting room where only women’s  ‘trifles’ are kept.

In the widow’s sewing basket, they find a dead canary wrapped in a scrap of silk inside a fancy small box. Its neck had been wrung, strangled. Knowing the late husband had been a hard man who ruled his wife with an iron fist, they figure out what happened. They keep it to themselves.

The play is described as being about domestic violence and the subjugation of women. The clue is the dead canary. It is seen as symbolic of the husband killing his wife’s joy in singing, something she’d hoped for as a career or hobby when a young woman.

Pets and domestic violence

But an essays-for-sale site (now gone) showed a paper that I think strikes an essential point about the canary. The little bird was her pet, her small bit of warmth in a cold household. In strangling the bird, her husband took away her friend and her comfort.

I learned about Trifles while searching for information on domestic violence after listening to a CBC Radio Living Out Loud documentary in May 2011. It was about AnimEscale (AnimEscape in English), a shelter run by a Quebec woman Nicole Messier. A former victim of spousal abuse, she and her new husband turned their home into a shelter for the animal victims of domestic violence. Sadly, Ms. Messier passed away in 2013. What she did should be emulated by women’s shelters everywhere.

Nicole Messier said she had stayed in her abusive situation longer than she would have if it had been just herself. She wouldn’t leave her dog and cat, but she couldn’t take them to the women’s shelter. She learned she wasn’t the only woman doing that. Seventy percent of women, she said, will not leave their abusive households if they can’t take their animals with them.

Shelter for pets too

Domestic Violence PETA posterSo Ms. Messier worked with local women’s shelters to provide refuge for the pets. While women and children stayed in the women’s shelter, pets stayed in Nicole’s home. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, rabbits, goldfish – they were all welcome. For large animals like horses, she had farms who would board them.

While in the shelters, the humans and animals spent time together regularly. Violence too often is passed on to children, so she would be there to see how the animals acted towards the kids and vice versa. Animals can become afraid of or aggressive toward people they associate with abuse – usually men – so Ms. Messier’s husband worked with the pets to show them that not all men need be feared.

These remarkable people kept families protected and intact. Leaving an abusive situation is good for women and children, but how can you leave your pets? If you do so, what are you telling your kids about responsibility? Also, in the absence of the wife and kids, probably the abuser is going to turn his attention to the animal if he hasn’t already. Unless their animals also find shelter, women might not leave to protect themselves. Nicole helped fill that huge gap in domestic violence prevention measures.

This was published on my St. Thomas Dog Blog July 15, 2011. Mission AnimEscale is on Facebook. I emailed Nicole and received a lovely reply with more information about her “mission”. It is under my name in ‘Comments’ below, July 19, 2011.


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0 thoughts on “‘Trifles’ of Creature Comfort”

  1. Hi Dorothy,

    I wasn’t aware you were trying to find info about similar programs until today. There is info about the SafePet Program in Ontario for OVMA member veterinarians and women’s shelters who wish to participate, at http://www.ovma.org/pet_owners/safepet.html .

    “OVMA’s SafePet Program is dedicated to assisting women in leaving abusive partners by providing temporary housing and care for their pets…”

    Perhaps a similar program could be modeled on SafePet if there are no OVMA vets able to volunteer here.

    The city police officer at the Sept. AWC meeting was not aware of such a program operating in St. Thomas, so I don’t think it’s currently running here. It would be tremendous if or a similar program was in place. I would certainly love to know if such a program is planned so women and children have an easier time leaving abusive situations.

    I learned about this issue from the excellent NY Times.com article, “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome” which demonstrates the connection between animal abuse and other forms of violence, including domestic, child abuse, and other crime, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/magazine/13dogfighting-t.html?pagewanted=all

    I gave the officer the information I printed out about SafePet and a copy of the “NY Times” article, but don’t know if anything will come of it. The officer is on a number of committees. I can look up his name if you’d like it.

    1. Hi Chris and thanks for the information. If the SafePet programme isn’t running here, it should be. Certainly seems like something worth pursuing by the City animal welfare committee, social services and the police. I’ve never heard much about it, other than from a social work student friend who was wondering what options were available for people here – nothing, as far as she could find out. She mentioned the OVMA programme and I read some about it and similar type things in the US while researching this. More questions for my vets – they love to see me walk in the door, I’m sure (haha!).

  2. I emailed Nicole about my post and this is her gracious and informative reply. I am posting it with her permission.

    Thank you, Dorothy, for this very well written article on our mission; I read many pages of your blog and found it very interesting.

    As for our charity, no other is doing the same since all animals are under the same roof, in complete liberty and live as a big family with my husband and myself. Most organisations who foster animals for these human victims of violence are shelters, or foster families. I am aware of the SafePet program in Ontario, run by the veterinarians; but they receive a 90,000$ subsidy yearly from their government and work only with fostering in cages in their clinics/hospitals and foster families. Also, we are the only ones, as I know of, offering the monthly meeting between the family and their pet.

    This is why we are a mission and not a shelter; there is a big difference here! Furthermore, we do not receive a penny from the government and very little help from vets, whom we contact only when we have no vacancy here at the mission (or due to the distance between our mission and the shelter where the woman and children are staying), because they use cages and the vets charge us with the fostering, examination, vaccines fees. The AnimEscale is paying for all the medical expenses.

    Anyhow, I thank you very much for allowing more women and children to know about us since 3 out of 4 women mentioned to me that they delayed their departure from the abuser because they worry for the security of their pet companions. These are not statistics taken on the Web, they are our very own statistics, our experience serving the families. And I know, as well as you know, because I was one of them. Behind each figure in the statistics, there is human and animal suffering. For me, each number has a name and a story; I am privileged to be part of their recovery and I call these guests at our mission “my blessings” because they bring me much more than I give them.

    I thank you for your kind words towards our charitable mission and sincerely wish you will never need our help!
    PAWsitively and sincerely yours,

    Nicole Messier, fondatrice
    Mission AnimEscale
    Parce que la violence les blesse aussi…

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