LEANDER, Texas — Everyone deals with trauma and tragedy differently. One area non-profit not only rescues animals who have experienced abuse or neglect, but they also use their help to bond with children who have come across some difficult times themselves.
Jamie Griner is the owner and president of Safe in Austin. She found inspiration to start the group through her son's autism service dog.
"I have three kids, one of whom has autism. His name is Jackson and he is 13 years old, but when he was 6 years old, we brought home an autism service dog," Griner explained. "Her name was Angel and she was everything her name implies. She changed his whole life and our whole entire world. She touched places of his heart even I couldn’t get to as his mother and she was a miracle for our family, so we’re just grateful for the confidence and the way she changed his whole life and so we started rescuing. We were just so inspired by what happens when you put animals and children together, especially special needs animals and children."
Angel died a little more than a year ago, but Griner and her family still feel called to rescue. The property out in Leander is home to more than 100 animals from pups and kittens, to hogs, chickens, cattle, goats and more.
"Every single animal here come from some sort of abuse or neglect or have special needs of some sort. So missing parts or illnesses or medical conditions, lots from abuse and trauma," Griner explained. "I just follow my heart on who needs us the most and typically we’re taking in the ones that no one else will and that’s where our focus lies and what their past is and how it could affect healing to children that come to visit. So that’s where our mission lies and that’s a big part of the process of picking who we can bring to the sanctuary and become a member of our crazy family."
With so many running around the property, there's a lot of work and love to go around for each individual animal. Griner credits the hard work of her volunteers who help her get the job done.
"Our animals work with all ages and abilities of children, so we think that all ages and abilities can volunteer," Griner said. "We have lots of special needs kids that come on a regular basis, and sometimes that healing aspect has turned into volunteering on a regular basis which is really cool because it turns their role into the caretaker and they learn a lot from them taking care of the animals."
The animals have their way of brightening everyone's day one way or another.
"The animals make the kids happy," said Zack Weldon, who is a volunteer with Safe in Austin. One of his favorite volunteer duties is working with the rabbits.
"The animals bond with our people that have special needs kind of like animals," said Dominic Degani, who is a 6-year-old volunteer. "Safe in Austin heals hearts."
Griner emphasized that while the property is a fun place for her volunteers and staff to work, it is not a petting zoo. The property serves an important purpose in addition to rescuing the animals.
"During the week, we invite children who also come from some sort of abuse and neglect or have special needs out to the rescue to touch and love and heal alongside the animals," Griner said.
Safe in Austin hosts "public days" for children and their families to meet and play with the animals.
"We do that to spread awareness of our mission. It helps us find families that need us. We are not a petting zoo," Griner said. "My job is to make sure the animals feel comfortable and happy all the time and that we’re teaching people to be a voice for the voiceless, and not that it’s all about them."
Taylor Salazar attended the most recent public day with her mother, son and family.
"I was raised with three siblings who were adopted from foster care, so they also dealt with abuse, neglect and to see them interact with the animals is just really special," Salazar said.
"We love animals. We like to take every chance to be with them we just wanted to do this opportunity and have fun with it," said Elliot Taylor, who attended the public day with his mother, Stacy.
For friends Brooklyn Mackenzie, 9, and Reagan Mount, 12, it was their first time out at Safe in Austin.
"It makes me feel good because it's like they were abused and not treated good and we can make them feel happy," said Mount.
"Who Rescued Who?" is written across the volunteers' T-shirts.
At Safe in Austin, it's both.
"No matter what, when they [the children] come here, they can always find an animal that is similar to what they've been through so the bonding thing happens," Griner said.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Safe in Austin, click here. If you want to keep up with Safe in Austin and find out when their next public day will be, follow their updates on Facebook or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.