Your first instinct when you look at Jen Rice’s cat Kyle is to giggle.
The black-and-white feline is described on his wildly popular Instagram page—which currently has over 65,000 followers and counting—as having “3 teeth, no claws, severe dandruff, hip dysplasia, and a crooked ear.”
He is, undoubtedly, a hilarious-looking cat (his perma-frown and bushy whiskers sort of make him look like a feline version of Ron Swanson), but one that you can’t help but fall in love with immediately.
When his owner Jen Rice became Kyle’s pet parent back in 2011, she couldn’t help but share his unique mug with the rest of the world. But unlike Kyle’s unique physical features, this cat’s backstory is nothing to giggle about.
Kyle witnessed a murder. It was written into his adoption report. And as the cat’s internet celebrity began to grow, so did the curiosity about the murder he witnessed.
“I decided to look into it a little more,” Rice explains. “In his adoption record there was actually a file from the police that stated the date that the incident occurred, and I used that to do some research. I found out that, indeed, the murder was classified as a domestic violence fatality.”
Rice says that learning that gave her a “sobering perspective” on this fascinating factoid about her pet, and she wanted to use Kyle’s social media success for the greater good.
Working full-time as a faculty research aide at a university, Rice devoted her free time to her mission with Kyle. In 2015, Rice launched Cats Against Domestic Violence, which raises awareness about the desperate need for shelters that provide housing and aid to domestic abuse victims and their pets.
“There’s actually a huge unmet need of domestic violence shelters and their ability to accept animals,” she notes. “Less than five percent of domestic violence shelters can take pets, and considering that more than seventy percent of people in the U.S. have a pet, there’s obviously a lot of people that aren’t getting the support they need to leave their abusive situation because they don’t have anywhere to go with their animal.”
As noted in one of the devastating and urgent statistics featured on Kyle’s website shared from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV): “Up to 45 percent of battered women have delayed their decision to leave their abuser, or have returned to their abuser, out of fear of their pet’s safety.” Another harrowing fact reads: “More than 70 percent of pet-owning women who enter domestic violence shelters report their batterer threatened, injured, or killed their pet.”
Rice, Kyle, and NCADV work with both URIPALS (People and Animals Living Safely) and the national non-profit Red Rover in their efforts. In fact, all of the money that comes by way of Kyle’s online shop (which includes merchandise like shirts, pillows, and accessories) goes to those organizations.
“Less than five percent of domestic violence shelters can take pets, and considering that more than seventy percent of people in the U.S. have a pet, there’s obviously a lot of people that aren’t getting the support they need to leave their abusive situation…”
Rice calls her journey as a domestic abuse awareness advocate an “unexpected…but really rewarding” experience and has taken great pride in being Kyle’s pet parent. Her cat—with his goofy looks and his sad past life—means a lot to people.
“Fans have reached out to me in a number of different capacities,” she says. “Some tell me their own personal stories related to domestic violence; some tell me how their pets helped them escape domestic violence; some express how Kyle has served as this bright light and a reminder that even if they’ve suffered from domestic violence, they can still have great things ahead of them.”
Kyle has not only served as a reminder of resilience for many survivors, but he serves as a daily reminder of love and joy for Rice.
“He’s the biggest lover. I come home and as soon as sit down on the coach, he’ll sit on my lap and stay there for hours,” she shares. “Even though he endured this trauma, he still wants to be loved. He’s this pillar of hope and recovery.”
Images: Courtesy Jen Rice
Aly Semigran is lifestyle writer for the world and roommate of Ruby, the cutest dog in the world.