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Safe havens for pets in domestic abuse cases fill desperate need

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.

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