When artist Vicki Boatright rescued a stray gray-and-white cat wandering around a parking lot near her studio in Canton, Ohio, she never imagined that her simple act of kindness would inspire her to begin a national campaign to raise awareness about a crucial issue.
Boatright named the cat Okey and brought her home to meet her other cats. As she got to know Okey, she realized there was something odd about her behavior: Okey had clearly been around people, but she cowered in fear as if she had been abused and abandoned.
A former child and family therapist, Boatright connected the dots pretty quickly. She recalled a national study that revealed that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children in domestic violence shelters reported incidents of pet abuse. And ironically, it was the ASPCA, whose job it was to protect animals from abuse, that first advocated for protection of children from abuse.
Although the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence is well-known in animal rescue circles, it’s not common public knowledge. Boatright wanted to change that. She wanted to bring the issue out of the shadows — and she wanted to do so in the best way she knew how.
And thus, Okey’s Promise was born.
By taking her art out of the studio and into the streets, Boatright figured she might be able to help people understand the link between violence against animals and violence against people. Because she isn’t inclined to dark and angst-ridden art meditations, she hoped the joy expressed in her paintings would allow people to see that there is hope and there is something we can do to make a difference.
“I love animals, and I want people to realize that the issue of animal abuse is deeper than most people think,” Boatright, who also goes by the name BZTAT (pronounced bee-zee-tat), recently told me. “When a society takes efforts to ensure the safety of animals, they are also taking steps to improve the safety of children and other vulnerable human beings. I hope to promote a conversation about the issue in order to get people talking about and acting upon it.”
Her first Okey’s Promise project, a large mural called Safe Animals Safe Kids, was completed in July. The Kickstarter-funded artwork now hangs on an exterior wall in Canton’s Arts District.
Boatright is working on the second of what she hopes will be six highly visible public artworks that will continue to raise awareness on a national and global level. She has set up a Kickstarter to fund the multipanel traveling mural, and she has to raise at least $6,000 by Monday, Sept. 26, at 4 p.m. for the project to go forward.
If you’re not familiar with the way Kickstarter works, an individual sets up a project and a fund-raising goal. You can pledge any amount you wish toward the funding. If the project gets enough pledges to meet or exceed the goal, Kickstarter collects your money; if not, you don’t have to pay a dime.
Why do I care so much about domestic violence and animal abuse? Well, I’m sure I’m not the only Catster to be much more familiar with the issue than I’d like. My parents had an abusive relationship, and I helplessly witnessed this horror for the first five years of my life. I have a very good friend who endured domestic violence and abuse of her beloved pets, but didn’t feel she could leave the relationship until she and her animal friends had a safe place.
These stories are only part of the reason I think Okey’s Promise is so very important.
I’ve pledged to the project, and I encourage you to do so as well. If you’re a survivor of domestic violence, this is a way to give yourself a voice and share the joy of freedom and healing. We need to break the silence about animal, child, spousal, and elder abuse, and we need to help people understand the connection.
It’s my fondest hope that Okey’s Promise can inspire others to take action, bring domestic violence and pet abuse out of the shadows, and, like Boatright, give survivors a voice and a face. Talk about it, paint about it, sculpt about it, write about it, dance about it — do whatever you can do to help animals and people being terrorized and abused. All of us who are survivors, whether we’re animal or human, will be profoundly grateful to you for doing so.