By threatening to hurt or kill the family pet, an abusive partner manipulates, intimidates, and terrorizes his or her victims.

Fearing for the safety of their pets—who are often one of the few sources of comfort and emotional support victims have left—but with nowhere to take them, many battered partners and children end up staying in abusive situations.

Fortunately, communities are becoming aware of this ugly reality and have begun creating safe havens for the pets of domestic violence victims. Help can be found through several groups and online directories.

Safe Havens Mapping Project

Created eight 8 years ago by the Animal Welfare Institute, the Safe Havens Mapping Project is a comprehensive list of sheltering services in the U.S. The directory, which can be searched by ZIP code, includes more than 1,400 refuges across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

These places of safety may be foster homes or spaces provided by local animal shelters, veterinary hospitals, or refuges for dogs, cats, small animals, birds, and even horses and cows. Even better, there also are shelters where pets—typically dogs and cats—can stay with their humans.

“It’s a very slow change in the direction of cohousing, with less than 100 in the U.S., but the appeal and benefit of cohousing pets with their humans is clear,” says psychologist and author, Mary Lou Randour, PhD, who coordinates the directory.

The Harbor House Domestic Abuse Program in Appleton, Wisconsin, is one such place. According to director Beth Schnorr, the impact of cohousing has been huge.

“Many could not leave without their pets,” Schnorr says. “They are members of the family.”

Harbor House’s animal facility, Zach’s Critter Corner, features separate rooms for dogs and cats stocked with cages, toys, blankets, and pet food provided with funding from animal welfare nonprofit organization, RedRover. The space is named for Zachary Moe, who died in 2012 at age 18, and whose family contributed to the space in his memory.


RedRover’s Safe Escape program has operated since 2007 providing grants for boarding and veterinary care to help domestic violence victims.

“We experienced our most rapid growth to date in 2014, where we saw a 47 percent increase in incoming Safe Escape applications,” says RedRover president and CEO, Nicole Forsyth. “To date, we have given a total of 377 grants.”

According to Forsyth, RedRover’s Safe Housing program, which enables organizations that provide emergency sheltering for victims of domestic violence to house pets onsite with their families, is also growing.

“Our Safe Housing grants are relatively new, with our first grants provided in 2012,” she says. “In 2015, we doubled our spending on Safe Housing grants, due to our increased outreach efforts, and awarded 17 grants for a total of $82,664.”

Safe Place for Pets

Safe Place for Pets is a searchable online database of more than 600 safe pet housing options, with more being added as they become known. The website was created by RedRover, along with the National Link Coalition and Sheltering Animals and Families Together (SAF-T) program, with support from the Whitton-Spector Foundation in memory of Marion Dougherty, legendary Hollywood casting director and victim of domestic abuse.

Safe Place for Pets is designed to give advocates and those seeking to escape abuse with their pets a way to quickly navigate available resources. According to RedRover’s Forsyth, the site also includes a “Quick Escape to Google” button in the event users need to swiftly leave the site.

The Animal Safehouse Program

The Animal Safehouse Program at Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, California, provides shelter for pets of domestic abuse victims and other people in crisis. Refuge is typically provided in the shelter’s cattery or kennel; however, pets traumatized by abuse situations may be put into private foster care homes.

The program, which operates primarily in San Diego and southern California, originally provided shelter for 90 days with ongoing re-evaluation. It has since been adapted to better serve those in need. Now victims of domestic abuse who are overwhelmed with the stresses in their lives have the opportunity to allow their pets to be adopted.

“It’s for those who just know they are not going to be able to handle it. It gives them one less thing to worry about. They can leave their pet, relieved to know it will be safe,” says RCHS public relations director, John Van Zante.

National Link Coalition

The National Link Coalition addresses the interconnectedness of animal cruelty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse through public policy, professional programs, academic research, and community awareness.

The group has compiled a free online resource library for researchers, human services and animal welfare professionals, community organizers, and others interested in The Link. There, the ugly tangle of violence is revealed through facts, figures, and studies on family abuse.

For those who want to take action, the website also provides a list of national coalitions—independent networks working for a more effective, coordinated effort against linked forms of violence.

Maureen Blaney Flietner is an award-winning freelance writer as well as a professional photographer and artist. She has been “mom” to several dogs, cats, and horses over the years.

Comments (2) -

Arnold L. Goldman DVM, MPH
Arnold L. Goldman DVM, MPHUnited States
2/22/2016 7:09:38 AM #

The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Foundation is the the charitable and service arm of the veterinary community of Connecticut, the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). CVMF supports education, scholarship and service programs that improve animal health and public health in Connecticut. Leadership by CVMA veterinarians facilitates an evidence-based, scientific approach to animal health and welfare issues, and is what makes CVMF unique. One such program is our "Companions-in-Crisis."

The Companions-in-Crisis Program (CIC) provides shelter for individual animals caught up in family crises. Examples of such crises include domestic violence related evacuations, a phenomenon which is unfortunately increasing nationwide. The program provides safe, confidential, and most critically, secure temporary shelter for animals when a pet's owner enters an emergency shelter, residential treatment program, other medical facility or is otherwise temporarily unable to care for their animals.

In Connecticut, a partnership between CVMF and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) has enabled CIC by serving as a bridge, informing victims how to arrange to safeguard their animals for an indeterminate period, while they evacuate to new, safe circumstances.

CCADV is the leading advocacy organization for the victims of domestic violence in Connecticut, and also the membership organization for the 18 agencies that serve domestic violence victims statewide. By collaborating closely with key community, government and business leaders, CCADV works to ensure a systematic and comprehensive approach to victim services and offender accountability. CCADV and CVMF share a memorandum-of-understanding which outlines CIC program expectations and its basic operating guidelines.

The Companions-in-Crisis program has been described as a "witness protection program" for the animals of domestic violence victims. Domestic violence agency caseworkers, upon request of a victim, may contact CIC on the victim's behalf through a dedicated 24-hour telephone line, and begin the placement process. Animals are then secretly relocated to one of more than 60 participating veterinary hospitals across the state for safekeeping.

The program takes great care to ensure that animals are moved and housed in a way which ensures victim and animal care staff safety. Confidentiality and safety are the paramount concerns. After relocation, all reports on the status of animals in the program are made through the program director and caseworker only. For obvious reasons, there can be no animal visitation during the emergency shelter period.

Animal hospital owners are responsible for the basic costs of boarding and feeding animals and the CVMF provides funding for any necessary veterinary medical care on a case-by-case basis. CVMF donor funds may be used for this purpose.

Each request for shelter presents a unique set of circumstances and CIC accepts applications on a case-by-case basis. Eligibility requirements include enrollment or active participation in programs or services provided by a participating social service agency, and compliance with all court orders and/or treatment plans in effect at the time CIC services are rendered. Referring agencies can include: victim advocates and judicial personnel, law enforcement, animal control officers, youth & family service organizations, children's & elderly protective service agencies, and domestic violence or sexual assault crisis service providers.

Judith Larkin
Judith LarkinUnited States
3/1/2016 10:54:20 AM #

I am the editor of the Pacific Northwest Gordon Setter News.  I would like permission to reprint this article for our newsletter.  We reach many homes in the Northwest and this is information that would be most helpful not to just our members, but those they know who may be in crisis.
Thank you

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