9 Years After Escaping Cleveland Kidnapping, Michelle Knight Says Love for Animals Helped Her Heal

When she's not working with rescue animals, Michelle Knight travels the country speaking with domestic and child abuse survivors

Michelle Knight and her dog. April 2018.
Photo: Courtesy Lilly Rose Lee

At 4 a.m. each morning, Michelle Knight — who changed her name to Lily Rose Lee— wakes up and prepares to feed her menagerie, which includes a dog, chickens, birds, reptiles and a pony. Today was no different.

"God put me on this earth for a purpose. And I believe the purpose was to help animals and humans connect in a special way," Lee says. "They mimic and feel everything that you're going through. So, when you're sad, and you're distraught, they come up, they give you kisses, they show you how beautiful life can truly be."

It has been nine years since Lee, now 40, was rescued from a house in Cleveland where Ariel Castro held her captive for more than a decade along with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. The women endured unimaginable sexual and physical abuse until Berry escaped and called for help.

In the years that followed, Lee wrote two books, including New York Times bestseller Finding Me, and eventually fell in love. Six years ago, on the anniversary of her freedom, she married Michael Rodriguez, a courier she met through mutual friends on Facebook.

Tonight, she says, "My hubby's going to take me out to dinner," and she giggles like a newlywed.

Melanie Acevedo.

When she's not working with rescue animals, she travels across the country and visits women's organizations where she speaks with domestic and child abuse survivors.

"For the females that are going through it — and the males — I want them to know that they're not alone. There is strength, and healing, and there is the light at the end of the tunnel of a dark past," she says. "Never give up hope. Hope is the thing that I never gave up on. Even though sometimes I really wanted to."

She knows how difficult it can be to get through each day, but she tells everyone who will listen that life is a gift.

"I'm always going to remember this day, that I was freed, that I came home, even though I didn't have anybody to come home to. I've flourished. And I've grown," she says.

"Life blows my mind. Just walking out the door and just being able to do the things that were taken away from me," she says. "I may have my fears when I walk out my door, but also I don't let it define my existence, or control how I live my life. I choose to live differently because I know that it's not happening to me now."

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