Black Dog Hill domestic violence shelter needs community support

Two women living at the Black Dog Hill domestic violence shelter both endured years of emotional and verbal abuse from their husbands. And they both agree, they are not sure they would be alive today if they didn’t have a safe place to go.

She kept thinking to herself, would he really do it? Would he really kill me and then kill himself?

Lisa (not her real name), in her 40s, lives in The Refuge Network’s domestic violence shelter, Black Dog Hill, located between Isanti and Chisago County.

After years of emotional abuse from her husband and dealing with issues from his alcoholism, Lisa finally got the strength and courage to leave him after being together for 19 years, and raising three children together, two being their biological children.

“It was constant name-calling and putting me down,” Lisa said. “He would constantly talk bad about my family and it just went on and on. Our dating period was a good time and we got a place together. But then he started making threats toward me, and the threats became more severe in nature. There were days I would pray for him to get picked up by the cops for drinking and driving. He’d lock me and the children out of the house. He’d always be yelling at the kids. I stayed for the children because I’d always think things would get better. I tried everything to make it work.”

Lisa said she would always take the long way home from work.

“I’d be at work and everyone would be happy it’s Friday and the beginning of the weekend,” Lisa said. “Not me. I dreaded the weekends because then I knew the children and I would be stuck at home. I feel so much better since I’ve left. I just wish I had done this sooner.”

Lisa is one of 603 women and children who have lived at Black Dog Hill since its opening in February 2009. It’s the only emergency shelter in Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec, Carlton, Pine and Aitkin counties, which encompasses over 5,600 square miles and a population close to 200,000 people.

“The Refuge Network fights every day to end violence against women and children,” said Roxie Karelis, executive director of The Refuge. “We now also provide sexual assault advocacy in Isanti County. Our advocacy services and the shelter assure that safe emergency shelter, safety planning and support services are available for victims and their children. When battered women receive help to stop the violence in their home, the generational cycle of violence can be severed; children can learn non-violent means of resolving conflict, increasing the chances of developing and maintaining healthy relationships in their lives.”

Karelis explained the average length of stay at the shelter is 36 days.

“We are one of, if not the most cost-efficient operating shelter in the state,” Karelis said. “This is only possible because of the generosity of our community.”

Karelis explained the shelter could use the community’s support right now for household items such as toilet paper, paper towels, all kinds of meat and gas cards. Financial donations are also appreciated and checks payable to The Refuge Network can be sent to The Refuge Network, 1700 E. Rum River Drive S., Suite E, Cambridge, Minn. 55008, or online at

Lisa, who has two of her children living with her at the shelter, said all the staff and other women at Black Dog Hill have been wonderful.

“I’m in a much better place now,” Lisa said. “I feel safe and the other women have been so supportive. The first night I got here, I kept thinking what a warm and homey place this was. The staff is easy to talk to and it’s a very open environment. Everyone here goes out of their way to help you any way they can. And if they can’t help you, they will find the resources of those who can. Normally, I’m not the type of person to ask for help, but when I arrived at the shelter I just cried.”

Lisa said the years of emotional abuse have taken their toll, but she is doing the best she can.

“There were days when I would have rather been hit, smacked or punched, than hear some of the things he would say to me,” Lisa said. “The things he said to me just kept getting worse and worse. After I first left, I was scared, and then just got into automatic survival mode. Then I got mad, and then I had a crying spell. I’ve gone through a whirlwind of emotions. It’s not easy, but I’m getting healthier. I’m just trying to find out what normal is. My normal was messed up every day and every night. I always hated going to the grocery store or school conferences because I’d always see parents doing these things together, and I just keep thinking, why can’t I have that?”

Tracy finally finds the strength to leave

Tracy (not her real name) is a woman in her 50s living at Black Dog Hill, also due to emotional and verbal abuse from her husband, who she has two biological children with.

“I left two or three times in the past, but always went back,” Tracy said. “But I knew this last time would be different and I’m now at the shelter with my three children. This place is a Godsend. I had nowhere else to go. The staff here are so knowledgeable and supportive and provide you with whatever you need. It’s a safe and healthy place, and there is an exceptional group of women here right now. I feel very humbled and blessed to be here.”

Tracy has been with the same man for the past 20 years, and they dated for 10 years before they got married. She has been separated from him the past two years, and is trying to get her life back.

“I’m comfortable with not being with him anymore, and I’ll never go back,” Tracy said. “I remember the moment I was able to jump from the cardboard box I had been living in for years, and I have a wonderful support system around me that will not allow me to go back.”

Tracy said she stayed with him because she loved him and hoped things would be different.

“There were days I would have rather been knocked upside the head than go through the 18 years of emotional and verbal abuse that I endured,” Tracy said. “He defined me all these years and I allowed it to happen. I’m now in the process of taking back my life. I’m beginning to know myself again, and I’m beginning to like myself again.”

Tracy said her husband was an alcoholic, and his drinking got worse the last couple of years, and has had felony charges lodged against him.

“He would constantly change the locks on the house or take the last money from my purse so I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere,” Tracy said. “When he thought I would leave, he would tempt me with something of nice monetary value. Finally I decided no amount of money would make me stay.”

Tracy explained that her husband told her he had 26 years of sobriety when they met, and just had started drinking the past couple of years.

“He had a lot of control over me and I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to him — I was afraid,” Tracy said. “He made me feel I was the sick one and something was the matter with me. And year after year I believed it. But the stronger I became, the more threatened he became. He had control over my finances, my friends, I could never go anywhere. And if I had people over, he would just dominate the conversation. I’m so glad to be out of there.”

The night a scary incident took place, Tracy called her sister, who then called the cops. The cops told her husband to stay away for the night, but he came back. The next day, when the cops found him back at the house, they told him to stay away again and Tracy filed her first order for protection.

However, her husband convinced her to have the orders vacated and together they went to the courthouse.

“We were at the courthouse and my husband was pushing me toward the counter to have the orders vacated,” Tracy explained. “The woman behind the counter recognized my husband and looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing with him?’  I told my husband you better leave and that I would pick him up after I was done. But I never did. I looked and the woman behind the counter and that’s the moment I took a step out of my cardboard box and a giant leap toward getting my life back.”

Tracy said she is grateful for Black Dog Hill.

“This is a safe place and a place of healing and to get your spirit back,” Tracy said. “It will take years to process and get through the hurt and pain, but this is the place that it begins. I’m fortunate to be able to be here.”

Support needed

Karelis said community support is vital to the operation of Black Dog Hill.

“The community benefits when stable families reintegrate into the workplace, at schools and in neighborhoods,” Karelis said. “We believe providing services to victims and keeping families safe is the greatest contribution that we can make in our community. The geographic location of our facilities makes funding extremely challenging. We are outside of the Twin Cities seven county metro area and thus excluded from much urban funding. And, we are too close to the Cities to be considered “rural” by others. Community support is absolutely vital to our mission. Each individual contribution makes a huge difference.”

The fight against domestic violence is a constant battle.

“Domestic violence is a scourge,” said Amy Brosnahan, Kanabec County attorney. “It will end when we will no longer, as a society, agree to put up with it. The effort of The Refuge Network to provide safe haven is a vital component in the essential ongoing work designed to end domestic violence forever.”

For more information on The Refuge Network visit or call 763-689-3532. The 24-hour toll free crisis hotline is 1-800-338-SAFE (7233). Advocates are available 24 hours a day. All services are free and confidential.