October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Join the Purple Leash Project during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to recognize the critical lack of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. With your support, we can help people and pets safely escape abuse - and heal - together.

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Over  70% of pet owning women entering shelters reported that their abuser had injured, killed or threatened family pets, and nearly 50% have delayed leaving an abusive situation out of  fear of harm to their animals. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Carlisle-Frank, Frank and Nielsen, Pets as Pawns). A pet is often seen as the only form of non-judgmental support in the home. The bond this forges is so strong that many people would rather stay in the abusive situation than abandon their pets. As well, abusers can use pets as hostages to convince the survivor not to leave, or coerce survivors into returning to the abusive home. Allowing people to escape with their pets removes this barrier to safety. Including pets as a part of the family helps children understand that how pets are treated is important, and it validates their feelings for their pets.

  • Initially, you should partner with at least one domestic violence organization. You should also ensure that you have access to veterinary care by partnering with a local veterinarian if your organization does not provide veterinary care. As your program grows you can partner with multiple domestic violence organizations, multiple veterinarians (to spread the burden of care if needed), and other local businesses or groups who can fill the needs you may have like pet care items, flea/tick medication, or any other needs you identify for your program.

  • No. Being able to accept pets, even in a limited capacity, is a great step toward helping more people reach safety.  You may be able to accommodate small dogs, cats, and pocket pets, while others are able to accommodate larger animals or even farm animals. If  you are unable to house large animals you may want to speak with a local rescue group or even with a local stable, to see if temporary arrangements can be made if large animal boarding is needed. This is especially important in more rural areas.

  • Pets involved in domestic violence are often in need of basic veterinary care, such as vaccinations or spay/neuter. It’s possible that the animal may never have been seen by a veterinarian before. If the survivor was abused financially, that can manifest in the abuser not allowing money to be spent on things important to their victim, like pet care. A general health assessment will be useful in finding what care may be needed for the animal during their stay. It’s also possible that the animal was injured by the abuser, and may need urgent or emergency care. Finally, having a record of ownership and care can help the survivor in legal proceedings, like proving abuse and/or custody. A small portion of the Safe Housing Animal Shelter grant can be used to start an emergency medical fund, but the majority of funding should be for building/renovating pet housing.

  • The cost of establishing your program will depend on what housing needs to be built at your organization. The initial start-up costs will likely be more than the maintenance. Many of the domestic violence shelters who have received a Safe Housing grant indicate that they do not have to take funds from their general operating budget for this program because it is funded through community support.

  • Owners should sign a boarding contract and release form when the pets start boarding. This stipulates that if they do not pick-up their pet the animal becomes the property of your organization. This will allow you to re-home the pets. While this does occasionally happen, the majority of domestic violence shelters who have received Safe Housing grants report that the animals and survivors are reunited.

  • One of the great things about having a program that helps both pets and domestic violence survivors is that it can open up another area of fundraising for your organization. People who may not donate to an animal shelter may choose to donate to a program that keeps survivors and their families (including pets!) safe. There are many ways to  involve your local community as well. We always suggest that you plan on some budget to cover recurring costs like food, litter, toys, etc., but many of our Safe Housing grant recipients report having great success reaching out to their local community to help with these needs. Here are a few ideas:

    • Pet food drives using local radio or television stations
    • Partnerships with area pet stores where people can donate food, toys, leashes, collars, etc. 
    • Amazon wish list donations
    • A local volunteer group/scout troop/classroom can make “welcome packets” for the pets to use during their stay, and also take with them that include special bowls, collar and leash, toys, treats, etc., for each pet
    • Fun event like a raffle that local businesses can donate to
  • Yes, as long as that space is made available for the Safe Housing program pets when needed.

  • Consulting with your domestic violence organization partner, as well as an attorney, can help you identify any possible legal issues with your program. Much like cases where animals are held in protective custody, you’ll want to consider issues like privacy and confidentiality, animal ownership, and anything else you and your domestic violence organization partner think could be an issue. Legal issues have not come up as a roadblock in our conversations with Safe Housing grant recipients, but it’s best to be prepared just in case.

  • Safe Housing Animal Shelter grant funds cannot be used for transportation costs, but that doesn’t mean that your program cannot include them. You may be able to find volunteers willing to help with transport from a safe/neutral location. You can also fundraise from the community to have these costs covered (e.g. “Your $15 donation can help transport a pet to safety”).

  • Ideally yes, but you’ll want to work a plan out with your partner domestic violence organization beforehand. The safety of everyone involved is most important, but allowing visitation can help ensure reunification once the survivor transitions away from the domestic violence agency. Visiting their pets can also help children by providing support and the comfort of a normal activity during such a chaotic time.

  • The goal of the Safe Housing program is to allow families to escape abuse with their pets, so ideally the pets would be housed until they can be safely reunited with the survivor. We suggest speaking with your domestic violence organization partner about the average length they expect pet boarding will be needed and start building your program from there. A survivor’s stay in an emergency domestic violence shelter is typically 30-90 days, but some programs can be longer. Transitional programs are often longer, and transitional housing is often not pet friendly. For animals that may need a longer-than-average stay, incorporating foster may be a way to get the animals some relief from long-term kenneling. The average length of stay for pets, reported both by previous Safe Housing grant recipients and through our Safe Escape program, is about 45 days.

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