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Chelsea and a Dog Named Lila
24th Jul


Chelsea and a Dog Named Lila

Chelsea had a sparkle in her eye when she talked about her dog Lila. This golden retriever came into Chelsea’s life during a time when there was nothing else good about it; when she was caught in the destructive whirlwind of living with an abuser.

Even before her own abuse, Chelsea grew up in a home not fit for a little girl. She has memories of her mother cooking meth. She grew up and out, going to college for a while at nearby Indiana University majoring in biology. 

Eventually college took a back seat to a relationship with a man who abused her physically and emotionally. She dropped out of college and became an exotic dancer. By then, Chelsea and her abuser shared a house, a marriage—and a dog named Lila.

A Sweet Puppy

Before Lila came into her life, Chelsea often found solace in going into pet stores and spending time with the puppies that were for sale. Petting the dogs was a respite in her chaotic, fear-filled life.  She began wishing she could have a dog of her own.

One night in September 2017, when Chelsea walked in a pet store she saw Lila: A sweet golden retriever. She asked the clerk for a private play room with Lila and knew she found a dog for her. This 3-month-old puppy stole her heart.

Chelsea & Lila

Chelsea and her abuser didn’t have the $2,500 to purchase Lila, so they sold some antique arcade games they had, and applied for a loan to make up the difference. “I walked her outside right after we bought her,” said Chelsea. As she retold the story she had a smile on her face.  “The grass and the wind and even the asphalt were all new to her. She was exploring everything.”

At home, Chelsea concentrated on training Lila, who loved the freedom from her small cage at the pet store. “I had a garden and she’d tear through the garden,“ said Chelsea. “Lila pulled out more than a few cucumber plants on me!” she recalled.

Separate Ways

Chelsea had Lila for about 10 months when the abuse at home got so bad she moved out. Lila went to a foster home; Chelsea to a domestic violence shelter.

Neither one was optimal: Lila would spend much of her time in a cage, and eventually went back to Chelsea’s abuser.

Chelsea fared a little better – she finally was safe from her abuser. But she had no privacy at the shelter, nor time and space for healing.

A Home at Coburn Place

In March of 2019 Chelsea learned her time on the waiting list was over: There was an opening at Coburn Place. Here, she has privacy and safety for the first time in years. With her immediate housing need met, Lila became her #1 concern. Jacqueline, Chelsea’s advocate at Coburn Place, saw how concern for Lila was dominating Chelsea’s thoughts.  She told Chelsea, “You may have to accept the fact that no one will love Lila as you do.”

That would be hard. Chelsea’s abuser tried to poison her once, and he could be doing that to Lila. Her imagination ran wild about Lila’s well-being. 

Finding a new home for Lila was a constant topic in Chelsea’s weekly case management meetings. One day, Jacqueline knocked on Chelsea’s door and told her about a Coburn staff member who was interested in fostering Lila. Terms of the deal: Land to run around on, other dogs to play with and a family of dog-lovers to nurture Lila for however long it took for Chelsea to get out back on her feet.

The very next day Chelsea brought Lila to Coburn Place. They spent a little time together–it’s never enough– before Chelsea said a temporary good-bye to Lila as she headed to her new home.

Lila (with her new friend Captain!) enjoying life with her foster family

Knowing Lila was not just safe, but in a home where she could thrive, was freeing for Chelsea. The constant nagging thoughts about Lila being cooped up and abused came to an end. She could move on in her journey of becoming a survivor.

When asked to describe what precisely Coburn Place does that people may not understand, here’s what Chelsea said: “I was in a Catch-22. I was in an abusive situation and could not get the sleep I needed because the abuse would go on all night. I could not get the sleep I needed to hold a stable job. When I thought about leaving, I would wonder where I would go. Without basic housing, you have nothing. Coburn Place pulled me out of the force of the tornado.”

The Impact of Coburn Place

Lila’s journey speaks to the way Coburn cares. Finding a home for a dog seems like a “figure it out for yourself” type of problem. But Jacqueline was well aware of how concern for Lila was distracting Chelsea from the bigger issues of finding employment and permanent housing for herself.

Someday, Chelsea will have Lila back. For now, she is taking advantage of the services Coburn offers to put the pieces of her life back together. She is inspired by a future that will include Lila, most likely running through her garden again someday.

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