How to Create an Animal "Safe Haven" Program

<empty>In many cases of domestic violence, the inability of a domestic violence shelter to arrange for companion animal care is the one factor that prevents a women from seeking help and forces her to remain in an abusive situation. If you want to help in your community by developing a system of "safe haven" animal care for domestic violence victims during their stay at a shelter, here are some tips to help you get started:

Tip #1. Your local domestic violence shelter should be able to provide information about its ability to provide housing and care for family companion animals. Find out the extent of the need for this type of assistance (how many families need animal housing in a month, for instance) and what the barriers are to providing it.

Tip #2. Possible housing options for companion animals include municipal animal control facilities, animal humane shelters, veterinary clinics, boarding kennels, or in pre-screened private foster homes. A limited number of domestic violence shelters have opted to construct animal kennels on site, but this is not common due to liability concerns and concern for the comfort of the other residents (allergies, barking, fear of dogs, etc). Security and confidentiality must be maintained with any housing option, and visitation is often discouraged due to safety concerns.

Tip #3. An arbitrary time limit can be set (two weeks, 30 days, etc.) in order to ensure that reclaiming the animal remains a priority for the woman as she seeks a new home. Most victims want to be reunited with their animals as soon as possible, especially when children are involved. Others need more time to find a suitable new home. An agreement should be signed that states that animals not reclaimed by the victim within the set time limit will be permanently placed in adoptive homes. Note: Some domestic violence victims do not wish to keep their animals for personal reasons, but express concern for the welfare of the animal if it is left behind. These cases can be handled from the beginning as animals in need of permanent new homes.

Tip #4. The cost of caring for the companion animals of domestic violence victims varies depending on each situation. Providing basic housing and food is all that is necessary in many situations. Other cases may require emergency veterinary care for injuries inflicted by the abuser, or nursing care for neglected animals. Offering additional routine treatments such as vaccinations and spaying or neutering can be helpful for some families. It is recommended that each victim have her animal vaccinated against rabies and licensed in her own name (not her partner’s name) in order to prove ownership.

Tip #5. It is preferable that the cost of housing a companion animal not be passed on to the victim, who is often facing financial challenges. Outside funding sources that can be explored include the following:

  • Specific donations for emergency animal housing through a local animal humane society
  • Specific donations for emergency animal housing through the domestic violence shelter
  • Donated services offered by veterinarians, boarding kennels, or foster-care givers
  • Fee waiver agreements with the local city or county animal control shelter
  • Charitable foundation grants
  • Grants or allocations by local city or county governments over and above the amount already given to support the domestic violence shelter
  • Federal funding through the United States Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Office (

Tip #6. In all requests for outside funding, emphasis should be placed on the human aspect of this problem. The link between human violence and animal abuse is well established. Victims of domestic violence should not be forced to choose between their own safety and the loss of a beloved companion animal, especially when animals left behind are often injured or killed by the abuser to further control or punish the victim. Animal housing should be viewed as a necessary service provided to the victim.

Tip #7. An excellent resource book, funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, is available that includes information about animal sheltering programs from around the country. The guidebook, entitled "Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines For Programs Sheltering Pets For Women Who Are Battered," is available at no charge by contacting:

Dr. Frank Ascione
Department of Psychology
Utah State University
2810 Old Main Hill
Logan, Utah 84322-2810
phone: 435-797-1464
fax: 435-797-1448


Tip #8. Consider establishing a cooperative interagency support system to address the link between human violence and animal abuse in your community. Members of such a "coalition" could include:

  • Local law enforcement agencies
  • Domestic violence advocates
  • Child abuse advocates
  • State child protective services
  • Animal control agencies
  • Animal humane societies
  • Judicial services
  • District attorneys
  • Public school counselors
  • Local veterinary associations

A coalition is able to respond to all reports of violence - child abuse, domestic violence, and animal abuse - with a comprehensive, holistic approach. Specific tasks for a coalition include:

  • Cross-training between agencies to increase awareness of procedures and challenges
  • Establishing "cross-reporting" systems (i.e., animal abuse reported to animal control by child protective investigators, and child abuse reported by animal control officers)
  • Working together on legislative issues to increase protection for children, domestic partners, and animals
  • Developing public education campaigns about the link between human violence and animal abuse
  • Incorporating humane education values into anti-violence campaigns in schools and communities


The circle of violence can be broken. Providing safe temporary housing for family companion animals allows abused women to get out - and get the help they need.

Related Links:

CARE - A program supporting emergency protective care for companion animals of domestic violence victims.