Bright Idea: A Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelter Lets Survivors Keep Their Four-Legged Friends

Photograph of a young woman holding her small dog.

When victims of domestic violence consider fleeing an abusive partner, they often fear for the lives of pets who might have to be left behind. At Family Assistance Program in Victorville, CA, that’s not a barrier to seeking shelter. Survivors can bring their cats and dogs with them.

“Domestic violence is about control and abuse,” says Executive Director Darryl Evey. “What better way to control and abuse a woman than to abuse the pet she loves. Abusers will use the pets as leverage against women. It’s important to take that leverage away.”

The organization used a $5,000 grant from Petco Foundation, the giving arm of the national pet store chain, to remake its space four years ago. Now there’s a dog run in the yard, as well as waterproof flooring and doggy doors in two of the domestic violence shelter’s five rooms. The shelter’s intake process includes asking women whether they have pets they want to bring along. Women who bring their pets sign a waiver absolving Family Assistance Program from liability if the pet bites or injures another resident or if the pet escapes or is harmed. Non-pet-owning residents also sign the waiver, which informs them that there are pets at the shelter and asks them to agree not to hold Family Assistance Program liable if they or their families are bit.

No one's been bit yet, Evey says, and allergies have not turned out to be a problem either. Pets must be kept out of common areas, and residents cannot acquire new pets while living at the shelter.

Evey says nearby animal-related nonprofits and businesses, such as rescue groups, dog clubs and veterinarians, gladly donate pet food, collars, toys and even pro bono veterinary treatment.

In return, Evey says, his organization makes sure to show a strong commitment to animals. Family Assistance Program holds an annual “dog walk” fundraiser for its programs. The local animal groups bring homeless dogs, and 15 to 20 are adopted each year, Evey says.

Become Pet-Friendly

Get advice on how to do it. Housing animals in victims’ rooms isn’t the only way to help protect and shelter the pets of domestic violence victims. The “Sheltering Animals & Families Together Safe-T Program Start-Up Manual” (PDF, 8MB) offers several options and detailed guidelines.

Apply for funding. RedRover, an organization that aims to get pets out of crisis, offers grants to organizations and to victims. The American Kennel Club Humane Fund also offers grants to domestic violence shelters.

Find safe places. Even if your organization cannot take in victims’ pets, you can help survivors find safe housing for their animals. Safe Place for Pets is a searchable online database of domestic violence and animal-related organizations that may be able to house pets in domestic violence situations.

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