Pet products company supports domestic violence survivors

My Pet Stockings banks on the love of animals to sell its products — Christmas-style stockings made in the shape of bones for dogs and fish for cats. The products can also be used as gift bags year-round.

Maria Cirulli founded the company. She is a survivor of domestic abuse. All the women she employs are, too.

Cirulli set things up so that all the net profits go to animal rescue and domestic violence centers that focus on keeping pets safe and with their families. In Las Vegas, that would include the Shade Tree.

Up to 74 percent of women have stayed in an abusive relationship because they couldn’t find a safe place for their pets, according to a 2007 Sexual Assault Family Violence Investigator Course survey posted at safvic.org.

The Shade Tree houses about 210 women and 90 children. Its pet center is full of dogs, cats and turtles that fled with their owners.

“For every single woman, it takes a great deal of courage and a great deal of tenacity to say, ‘I’m going to start over. I’m going to walk away,’ ” said Marlene Richter, director of the Shade Tree. “… Every single one of them has a different journey.”

Cirulli said her abuser was her live-in boyfriend. His work took them to Europe. While he had a temper before that, he didn’t lash out at Cirulli until she told him she was pregnant.

“That’s when he started with the insults, the put-downs,” she said.

Things escalated as her belly grew. Then came the day when he struck her. She was about six months pregnant.

“It was an argument over something stupid,” she recalled. “We were at a sort of nature preserve, and I walked into a spider web. He was laughing, hysterically. I said, ‘How could you not warn me that was there?’ … He hit me across the face — a slap. Then it was, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry. It’ll never happen again.’ ”

But she said it did happen again. And again. And again. He would return from work and start drinking. His mood would be surly, and he sulked.

“I’d think, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,’ ” she said.

After the baby was born, the abuse continued, she said. Cirulli stepped in whenever her boyfriend’s verbal rage was directed at their daughter, taking the brunt of things to spare her child. When he went away on jobs, the household was peaceful. Days were fun — watching her daughter grow, starting her in school. But then her boyfriend would return home, and his moods would return. He also was into guns.

“He’d say, ‘I know places where they’ll never find your bodies,’ ” she recalled.

About four years ago, Cirulli had enough. She wanted out, but she was in a foreign country and not adept at the language. Cirulli had limited funds because like many abusers, her boyfriend controlled the finances. A church moved her and her daughter into a safe house. The American embassy helped her get to America.

Back in the U.S., she got a job, but her boyfriend stalked her from Europe. He called her on her cellphone, inundating it with messages. He called her at her job constantly — as many as 19 times a day. Her employer had to let her go.

“I needed a job he couldn’t sabotage,” she said.

Cirulli became a computer graphics specialist, working out of her home. The idea for her company came to her just before the holidays, when she and her daughter wanted to have a stocking for their cat, Magic. She sewed one, and a friend suggested she sell them. The result was My Pet Stockings.

Cirulli spends her free time making the stockings out of canvas, burlap or an antiqued canvas material and adding a decorative ribbon, which can be swapped out for any occasion. She employs three other women.

“Her story tells me there is hope, that there is hope and healing and a life beyond what (Cirulli) had been trapped in through violence, through threats and oppression,” Richter said, “that the love she had for her future, she still can have that and even more by realizing her skills and strengths and talents and putting that forward. This woman is brilliant with her business mind and her compassionate heart.”

My Pet Stockings’ products cost $35.95. For more information, visit, mypetstockings.com.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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