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story.lead_photo.caption Jennifer Lancaster, founder and director of the Lancaster Animal Project in Benton, is shown with her husband, Clint Lancaster. The project now offers grants to care for the pets of victims of domestic violence. The goal is to provide the means for the victims to have their animals taken care of in a safe place until the pets and owners can be reunited in a new home. ( Sam Pierce)

— Since the beginning of their relationship, Clint Lancaster has always known that his wife, Jennifer, is passionate about animals.

“She would tell me about a dog that was about to be euthanized, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw it in our yard that night,” Clint said. “As we became lawyers, that kind of progressed even more, and Jen started drawing in a lot of animal cases.”

Jennifer Lancaster is the founder and director of the Lancaster Animal Project in Benton. The project recently announced that it now offers grants to victims of domestic violence to be applied toward temporary boarding, food and vaccinations for pets of families that are fleeing domestic abuse.

“The majority of our case load [as lawyers] is domestic relations, and through those cases, we learned about animals being left behind by victims of domestic violence when they had no place to put the animal, and oftentimes, unfortunately, those animals became the abuser’s next target,” Jennifer said. “It is through those cases and through our work with domestic-violence victims that we were inspired to provide this grant to the victims and give them peace of mind, but also save the animals.

Jennifer said the primary goal is to keep the family intact.

“When [a victim] leaves a home to go stay with a friend or at a domestic-violence shelter, animals may not be welcome to come with you,” Clint said. “The goal of the grant is to provide a place for the victim of domestic violence to put his or her animal safely until they can get their own place and get back with their animal.”

Jennifer said the goal is to reunite the pet with the family once the victim has established a new residence.

“It is a new grant that we are offering,” she said. “We’ve had this project for years, but we call it a project because it is multifaceted. But this is a new division or a new project within the project that we are offering.”

She said the project has rescued abused and abandoned animals, rehabilitated them and found them new homes. Currently, Jennifer said, the Lancasters have four dogs in their home, but the number varies depending on the need.

As attorneys in Benton, the couple have represented animals and their owners in court and have also sponsored spay-and-neuter clinics.

“If we have a foster family available, we will likely place the animal in a foster home; otherwise, that’s when [the grant] will provide the money to board the animal,” she said. “Usually, boarding facilities require that the animal is vaccinated, and food needs to be provided, and maybe a bed, toys or other necessities.

“The money is used for the purpose of boarding the animal or any necessary vaccinations.”

Jennifer said the organization has partnered with K9 Splash and Dash in Bryant.

“In the event that a foster is not available, [the pet] will go to a boarding facility,” she said. “We are reaching out to other facilities in central Arkansas to have those agreements, so if a need arises, we can make sure they have the space for the animal.”

Jennifer said K9 Splash and Dash has been a partner of the Lancasters’ law firm for a number of years and has assisted with its rescue efforts.

“They are the most compassionate people I have ever met,” she said. “They have a real heart, not just for animals, but for people, too.

“We have had a working relationship for many years, and when I approached [K9 Splash and Dash] with this new project, they, without hesitation, agreed to assist us.”

The Lancasters have also partnered with Women’s Own Worth, a nonprofit organization in Saline County.

“Many people only think about the adults when it comes to domestic violence, but there are so many more people impacted by domestic violence,” WoW founder and president Jajuan Archer said. “These escape grants don’t just help our four-legged family members, but they help the children, too.

“Our animals greet us with wagging tails and so much love to give. Fifty-one percent of survivors feel they have no choice but to leave their animals. When doing this, many times, that one source of constant love and companionship is gone.”

Clint said WoW will pay the pet deposit when domestic-violence victims are renting housing.

“They can provide the additional resources to help victims truly move on with their lives,” he said. “We work with other domestic-violence organizations to help victims meet a long-term goal of safety and stability.”

“Women’s Own Worth is so appreciative of the Lancasters and their commitment to helping domestic-violence victims,” Archer said. “My hope is that other organizations see #togetherweRbetter when thinking of families’ pets and the important roles they play in our lives.”

Jennifer said many people don’t know that an order of protection can include protection of the animal, but even though it does offer protection, normally, victims don’t have a place for the animal after they’ve fled their abuser.

“One of our clients left her situation in Idaho, and her husband locked the dogs in the garage, and he said he wasn’t going to feed or water them — which was a ploy to get her to come back,” Clint said. “Abusers will use all types of control mechanisms to regain or maintain control.

“She didn’t go back, and the dogs starved. That is just one example, and it is a horrible story but a real-life example — it’s more common that you would realize.”

“Women’s Own Worth’s main goal is to provide mental-health therapy and much more,” Archer said. “Our animals provide us with so much; it is amazing to think we are able to provide for them as well.”

Clint and Jennifer met at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. They graduated and married, then opened their law firm in 2011.

“We got married in South Africa during our third year of law school, and the day after our wedding, Jen had it arranged for us to go great-white-shark diving — it was not your typical honeymoon experience,” Clint said. “It was clearly evident that I would follow this woman anywhere she would go.”

“It is a joy to work with my spouse; that’s for sure,” Jennifer said. “We have very different personalities, different perspectives, so when we work together, all bases are covered.”

The Lancaster Animal Project held a fundraiser Nov. 16 titled Puppy Noses and Yoga Poses. Jennifer said the event featured yoga with a bunch of puppies running around.

The project will also have a Santa Paws event at the Saline County Courthouse on Dec. 7 and ask for a $10 donation for families and their pets to take photos with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

“And beginning on Jan. 1,

we will host a virtual 5K that will last for two weeks,” Jennifer said. “When people register, they are obligated to complete the 5K at any point during that 15-day period.”

She said their participation can be broken up or all at once and can be done through running, swimming or walking. After completion, “we will send them a medal,” she said.

For more information on The Lancaster Animal Project, visit the organization’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/lancasteranimalproject.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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