A few months ago, I mentioned that a shelter for women escaping from abusive situations in my hometown had developed a program to place the pets and livestock of abuse victims in loving foster homes while their human family members make more permanent arrangements. An interactive map that allows victims of domestic violence to search for similar programs near them is now available through the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens Mapping Project.

What are Safe Havens?

Safe havens are places where the victims of domestic violence may shelter their pets while they and their children seek safety. The ways in which safe havens for pets programs operate vary from community to community. Some are networks of foster care homes; others involve using additional kennel space at a local humane society. Others are independent nonprofit organizations, while many are formal partnerships between domestic violence agencies and animal agencies or groups.

Depending on the local arrangement, family members may be able to visit their pets while they are in safe-keeping. How long a pet may stay in a safe haven again will depend on the local arrangement — some stays are much shorter than others. Confidentiality regarding the pet’s location is highly guarded in order to protect the pets and their family members.

Where Are They?

Until now, there were only partial listings of safe havens for pets programs. The Animal Welfare Institute’s ongoing Safe Havens Mapping Project addresses this gap with the development of an integrated, comprehensive state-by-state listing of domestic violence shelters and programs that provide services for clients with companion animals.

In addition to this directory, Ahimsa House in Georgia operates a listserv of safe havens programs. Program staff find the listserv a useful way to share information, identify resources, and learn from each others' experiences with similar problems.

Considerations for Victims of Domestic Violence

Pets can typically be included in a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). Twenty-one states have passed laws to ensure that victims of domestic violence can include their pets in restraining orders. Even if a state does not have a specific provision, most state TROs contain language that gives courts discretion to permit additional orders. For example, a court can order pets be included in a TRO as they do for the temporary care of children or possession of property. Conditions bonds also can include pets, and a TRO can authorize law enforcement to assist with the removal of a pet from home.

How Can A Community Start a Safe Haven?

The manner in which safe havens for pets programs develop depends upon the capacity and best thinking of the local community. For a comprehensive review of how to start a safe haven for pets program, please see:

Ascione, F.R. (2000). Safe havens for pets: Guidelines for programs sheltering pets for women who are battered.

Phillips, A. (2010). Family violence shelters housing pets.

Reprinted with permission of the Animal Welfare Institute

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: sianc / via Shutterstock