When someone is thinking about leaving an abusive relationship, figuring out what to do with their pet can be a real stumbling block.

Dayna Desmarais knows this first-hand, and that's why she works for SafePet Ottawa, which places pets with foster homes while their owners transition to safer living situations.

The first step is to call a shelter for victims of domestic violence and create a safe exit plan with their staff. 

"They will actually ask you if you have any animals at home, and if you do, they contact us, and then we arrange for a foster home, the vet visits, all that kind of stuff to happen," Desmarais says.

So far their services cater to women but they're expanding to handle men and children as well. They have about 50 to 60 foster homes in the roster and are regularly full — something Desmarais says is both "wonderful" and "heartbreaking."

"It makes me both furious that this happens ... and very proud to know that people are taking the right steps to ensure the safety of their animals and themselves," she says.

'I hope that I'm raising awareness that it's OK to talk about it and that we should talk about it.'  -Dayna Desmarais

The organization has helped foster dogs, cats, reptiles, goats, pigs, tarantulas, and even horses. There haven't been any birds so far but they're ready for it.

SafePets Ottawa is run by volunteers and funded entirely by donation. They hold a few events to raise money each year, as well as an annual gala. The third will happen Nov. 3. 

Desmarais grew up in a home that fostered dogs and she does it on her own as well, mainly dogs with severe behavioural issues.

"I hope I'm making a difference for the people who are experiencing domestic violence," she says.

"I hope that I'm raising awareness that it's OK to talk about it and that we should talk about it ... and I hope that for the animals in our community, that I'm providing hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Trailblazers is a community connection project that tells stories about people making an impact in the Ottawa area. We received hundreds of submissions and a panel of judges helped select our top 10.