Okey’s Promise Receives an ArtsInStark Grant!

Okey smiling and purring her thanks!

The winners of the annual ArtsInStark Special Project Grants have been announced, and I am proud to report that Okey’s Promise is one of them! In collaboration with the Domestic Violence Project, Inc., we have developed a more in-depth project, and it has been awarded $5000 by ArtsInStark, the Stark County, OH county arts council!

The grant monies will be combined with the money contributed by Okey’s Promise Keepers, which, to date amounts to $2738. Matching funds were required to qualify, so the Promise Keepers made it possible for us to be awarded the grant. Thank you ArtsInStark, and THANK YOU OKEY’S PROMISE KEEPERS!!! We still could use additional funds, so if you are interested, please consider contributing via the ChipIn widget in the sidebar.

I am excited to be working with the Domestic Violence Project, Inc., which is a very progressive organization that works with survivors of domestic violence in Stark County, Ohio. I am very grateful to them, and in particular, their Executive Director, Melissa Pearce, who has been deeply supportive of the Okey’s Promise mission. Melissa contributed personally to the first project and she has been by my side every step of the way with the overall Okey’s Promise concept. Melissa is also coordinating with a local effort to provide foster care opportunities for pets from families affected by domestic violence. The effort will work to ensure that pet care is not an impediment for securing safety for vulnerable individuals.

The new Okey’s Promise project has evolved and includes a youth and community focus that extends beyond the original project design. The following is the description of the project that was submitted to ArtsInStark:

When animals are suffering in society, children are too. When there is violence to animals, there is likely violence to children and others who may be defenseless. – Artist BZTAT via Okey’s Promise: Art for a Cause

A number of high profile violent crimes in the Stark County area have alarmed citizens in recent years. Many of these crimes involved domestic violence, and many were either perpetrated against, or witnessed by, children. National statistics inform us that children who witness or experience such violence are at great risk for becoming violent perpetrators themselves or being adult victims who expect to be abused.

Statistics also inform us that abuse to animals is significantly correlated with domestic violence and child abuse. Women often remain in violent situations because they have no place for beloved pets to go when they and their children go to shelters. Abusers often manipulate their victims through threats or actual violence to pets. Children who experience violence often express their trauma by harming animals, and many later become violent towards people as well.

The Domestic Violence Project, Inc. (DVPI) is deeply concerned about the youth served through its agency programs. DVPI is currently exploring opportunities to develop shelter options for pets so that Stark County victims of abuse can reach safety for themselves and their animals. In this effort, DVPI and artist Vicki Boatright (known as BZTAT) are collaborating to bring intense focus and awareness to these issues, and assist children affected by violence through an innovative art project.

DVPI and BZTAT intend to work with at-risk youth, encouraging them to use art as a means of self-expression and healing. In addition to the therapeutic benefit of creative expression, young participants will also benefit from humane education in the process, integrating empathy, compassion, integrity, wisdom and knowledge into their value system.

The artist will work alongside an art therapist with children and adolescents in groups, encouraging them to express themselves creatively about their experiences. The artist will then use the artwork created by the youth in a series of 10-12 professional artworks (approx. 48” H x 32” W each) that relate to the links between animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. These artworks will become a traveling exhibit that will be used locally by DVPI and other interested agencies at events and other designated activities to raise awareness about the issues of domestic violence and pet abuse. The artist will assist DVPI through public speaking and other activities during and after the project in a public awareness campaign.

This project is innovative on a number of fronts: 1) It empowers children and adolescents who have experienced the pain of domestic violence to utilize creativity as a means for healing, behavioral redirection and humane education. 2) It allows children to work with a professional artist to create an important piece of public art that educates and informs the public about serious issues. 3) It brings important public awareness to the well researched yet little known facts connecting animal abuse and domestic violence. 4) It assists in the promotion and development of pet shelter options for those seeking refuge from domestic violence in Stark County. 5) The artist involved has been nationally recognized for her innovative approaches to raising awareness for serious issues through art and also for creative fund raising for her projects (social media, Kickstarter, ChipIn, etc.).

Work on the project will begin in January 2012. Stay tuned and be sure to follow us on Facebook to get the latest updates!



Penn State: Why did no one do anything?

In the wake of the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, a wave of moral outrage and second guessing has washed across the United States. Somebody should have done SOMETHING! Why didn’t they?!

When the heads began to roll, however, and a beloved coach was revealed to be one of the “somebodies” who should have done something, many ran to his defense and sought to proclaim his valor. Their lack of knowledge about the details and circumstances not withstanding, they sought to protect their beloved hero at all cost. HE was the victim in their eyes.

That wave has now crashed upon the beach, and the prevailing concern has shifted. Now we are all wondering, how did this venerable institution fail to protect young people from abuse?

I do not profess any specific knowledge of the details myself, but I have seen the pattern many times before. The Penn State debacle demonstrates a very predictable pattern of human behavior.

In the Penn State case, as well as that of the Catholic Church failing to protect victims from predatory priests, denial and ignorance of the truth led to victims being left in danger. Instead of protecting victims, efforts were made to protect the institutions from the repercussions of an abuse scandal.

Why is it that we build institutions that should protect as well as serve us, yet when they fail in their protective capacities, we seek to protect the institution, not the actual victims?

One word. FEAR.

When we see a neighbor ruthlessly punishing a child, what is our first thought? Do we rush to the child’s aid? Do we call the police?

If we see a relative whipping a puppy mercilessly for pooping on the carpet, do we report him to animal control?

Some may answer yes to these questions. Most would not. Because our thought processes would probably be more like this: “If I report this, will he retaliate against me? Will the rest of the neighborhood get mad at me? Will my family be upset about my report?”

Just like the beloved coach and his superiors, we are likely to try to handle abuse situations ourselves rather than face the repercussions of reporting. We fear the fallout from getting involved more than we fear the dangers present if we do nothing.

Part of the reason this human behavior pattern exists is because sexual abuse is still a topic that we want to avoid. It is so uncomfortable to think about the topic, we resist gaining more awareness about it. Yet it is a very insidious problem in our society. And its victims cannot view life without thinking about the trauma that pervades their lives.

It is not just wealthy coaches and educational administrators who avoid the issue. It is all of us.

Let’s change that.  Now.

Learn about child sexual abuse. There are numerous resources available on the internet. One good resource is the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.


Happy Gotcha Day Okey!

Today is the one year anniversary of the day that Okey, the rescue cat who inspired the Okey’s Promise movement, was rescued from the parking lot behind my building. Or the day that I was rescued from a doldrum where I felt I needed a purpose for my art.

She pulled me out of the doledrum in many ways. The video above tracks our progression in developing a very special relationship, and, in my mind, shows how sweet and special the human animal bond truly is.

Thank you for rescuing me, Okey. Happy Gotcha Day, little girl!


Profiles of Hope: Trudy’s Story


This is part of the Okey’s Profiles of Hope series, which highlights anonymous stories of courage and hope related to the issues of animal abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. This story was sent to me from a follower of this blog.

Trudy’s Story

I remember reading a book that said that if a woman does not have a good relationship with her father, she will end up marrying a man like her father…. Well I guess that is what I did:  I married a man like my father, only worse.

I grew up in a home with an angry, critical father, and a self absorbed, distant mother.  I got out of the house as soon as I could.  I always tended to be attracted to the “bad boys”.  If a guy was nice to me, I dropped him like a hot potato.  And so I ended up marrying “Richard”.  Honestly, looking back, the warning signs were there before we got married, I just refused to see them.

Richard was angry and very critical, just like my father was.  We were married just two and a half years, but it was hell on earth.  I could not do anything right, the food wasn’t cooked correctly, the bed was made wrong, the house wasn’t clean enough.  He didn’t like me seeing my friends, kept me isolated.  Bullied me.

We bought a house in the country, contrary to my wishes.  We had 2 cats, a dog, and a pony.

The abuse started with the animals.  He kicked the dog, twisted the pony’s ear, and threw my little kitten against the wall so hard, I thought he had killed it.  I was seeing my pastor regularly to try and help me get through this, and I remember he said “If he is abusing the animals, he will abuse you.”

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised the first time he hit me.  I called the cops, and the cops talked me into staying.  The second time he tried to throw me down the basement steps, I don’t know how I hung on, but I did.  He was so angry he stormed out the back door.  I got my purse and left.  I didn’t even have a toothbrush.  I stayed with friends for about six months till I got back on my feet.

I had to leave my sweet kitty there, because I was sleeping on couches.  I still feel so bad for abandoning Dusty to that horrible situation.  If I could have taken him, I would have.

I wish I could say I met the man of my dreams and remarried, but that is not what happened.  I was never able to allow my walls to come down to be able to have a lasting relationship. My life has been full, and right now I have four rescued cats that are quite spoiled.  They are my family, and I love them dearly.  I have made some mistakes, and I have a lot of regrets, but I do NOT regret leaving Richard at all.

I admire Trudy’s courage to leave, and I appreciate her willingness to share her story. I also admire her for making the tough choice of leaving her pet behind in order to secure her own safety. Yes. I said that – I admire her for choosing her own safety over risking both hers and the animal’s safety.

Many women remain in dangerous situations because of not having a safe place for their pets to go. Although I am a STRONG advocate for the development of more safe places for survivors to take their pets, I also am an advocate for women to take charge of their own safety, too. Especially when children are involved.

Sometimes walls are good boundaries. It is not essential to be in a relationship in order to find happiness.

Thank you Trudy for being so honest. I wish you and all your pets great happiness!


Would you like to submit an Okey’s Profiles of Hope story? Contact BZTAT to learn how.