When domestic violence victims with pets consider fleeing abusive homes and there is no safe place to house their pets, they have little choice but: (1) to remain in their homes and subject themselves, their children and their pets to continued violence, (2) to flee with children and pets and become homeless, or (3) to flee and leave their pets behind. Because victims understand the extent of the harm that their abusers will likely inflict upon their pets, if left behind, many victims simply remain in violent relationships.

Nearly 50% of women in shelters have delayed leaving their abuser, or have returned after leaving, out of fear of harm to their animals.

Why is co-sheltering important?
Allowing pets removes barriers to leaving abusive homes.
Including pets helps children understand the importance of how pets are treated.

Staying together provides stability to families in a safe house, especially families with children. Abusers can use pets as hostages to coerce survivors into returning to the abusive home.

As part of healthy growth and development, bonding with animals and pets teaches children empathy and compassion for other living creatures early in life. Breaking this bond can cause serious emotional difficulties for children and adults, particularly during a time of crisis (Jalongo, 2004; Melson, 2001).

How do we include the pet in the plan for leaving the shelter?
When a resident’s permitted stay at your shelter has ended, or when the resident is ready to leave, the goal is to have the resident find long-term, safe housing. Since some shelters provide long-term or transitional housing assistance, your shelter should also identify available pet-friendly housing so that outgoing residents can continue to be with and care for their pets. Developing a list of potential pet-friendly housing options in the community is an excellent partnering opportunity for shelters and animal protection organizations. Or check out

However, situations arise where a resident returns to an abusive partner. Given that children and pets may be returned to an environment known to be abusive, your shelter should follow existing protocols in this regard. Some protocols or state laws may call for notifying child protective services that a child may be returning to a dangerous home. If that is the case, then local animal protection agencies should be notified if a pet is being returned to an abusive home. An option to consider is asking the resident if she will sign over ownership of the pet to your SAF-T program, which then allows you place the pet with your partner animal protection organization for placement in a new home. Seek guidance from your animal protection partner in this regard.

What are the different housing options?
“In the over two years since starting this program [in Summer 2009], we have not had a single negative interaction with a pet.” – Darryl Evey, High Desert Domestic Violence Program (Victorville, California)

Once you have acknowledged the need in your community to help families with pets, you should assess the appropriate housing system for your shelter. The costs of implementing and sustaining a co-sheltering program will depend on how you accommodate the pets. We recommend three methods for housing pets on-site:

Option 1: Housing inside the Resident’s Room: Allow residents to house pets within their rooms. Shelters currently allowing pets in the rooms primarily allow smaller and/or non-allergenic pets inside the rooms. Designating certain rooms as “pet friendly” or “no pets” will help with allergy concerns.

Option 2: Housing in an Indoor Kennel: Locate a separate room within the shelter that can safely house the animals in separate cages or crates, or turn a basement into a kennel. This indoor kennel option reduces potential issues with allergies and noise.

Fort Walton, Florida

Option 3: Housing in an Outdoor Kennel: Provide secure and sheltered housing directly on the shelter property. Back yard locations are the most popular for this option. Options can include: (1) an outdoor kennel which is comprised of building chain- link kennels with sheltering (roof and side-wall protection); (2) A small outdoor building or shed kennel on the shelter property; or (3) renovating a garage.

Hermitage, Pennsylvania

Should the pet interact with other residents?
For the well being of the pet, as well as for the safety of the family, shelter staff and shelter residents, it is important for pets to not free-roam or interact unsupervised with others. Because some families may not understand their pet’s behavior or how the pet will react to meeting new people, the best practice is to minimize outside interaction with the pet. This rule may be important when seeking insurance coverage for housing pets on-site.

Do we have to accept all types of pets? 
Each co-sheltering program should decide what types, sizes and number of pets can be accommodated safely on-site, since that decision will determine the types of accommodations required. Some shelters are able to accommodate small dogs, cats, and pocket pets, while others are able to accommodate larger animals or even farm animals. Being able to accept pets, even in a limited capacity, is a great step toward helping more people reach safety.

What if other residents are allergic to pets?
Pet-related allergies are common, and you should anticipate that some residents may have allergies to a variety of pets. Pet-related odors may also cause issues with some staff and residents. The shelter intake form should ask every resident to identify any pet allergies they have. This may help with placement of pet-allergy residents in rooms farthest away from rooms with pets.

Do we need to partner with any other agencies?
When establishingco-sheltering, it is important to bring other professionals together to support your program. There are three key components to successfully launching and sustaining a co-sheltering program: (1) partnering with an animal protection organization; (2) having the services of a veterinarian; and (3) only allowing the family and designated shelter staff to interact with each pet.

Included in the SAF-T manual is a sample MOU that you can customize to use with your partner agencies. That way everyone’s role is understood and agreed upon before the first pet is welcomed into your shelter.

Why is it important to partner with a local animal protection organization?
It is important to partner with a local animal protection organization such as a shelter or animal foster care organization. This partner can provide guidance on animal housing issues, local regulations and ordinances impacting housing animals, and can assist when difficult animal issues arise. Your animal protection organization partner may also need to house pets if certain situations arise, such as: excess animals, noisy animals, large/exotic animals, or aggressive or stressed animals

Additionally, there may be situations where a resident with a pet is unable to take their pet with them when leaving the shelter. Using the “SAF-T Agreement Between Resident and Shelter” (found in the Forms section). will allow you to legally obtain ownership of the pet(s) should the resident abandon or be in a position where s/he cannot care for their pet(s). This will allow you and/or your partner animal protection organization to place the pet(s) for adoption, rescue or other disposition.

Why is it important to partner with a veterinarian?
The reasons for having a veterinarian available include: (1) to provide an initial examination of each pet to determine whether the animal has been abused or neglected (even if the injuries are in the healing process); (2) to provide general medical care to the pets, including updating vaccinations, providing flea/ parasite treatments and spaying/neutering; (3) to provide emergency care to pets suffering from illness or injury that may require surgery or other immediate attention; and (4) to provide an expert opinion in court should the need arise to verify animal cruelty.

Having veterinary records listing your client as the caretaker and paying for the services can be beneficial if a custody dispute arises over the animal.

What if a resident abandons their pet?
There may be situations where a resident with a pet is unable to take their pet with them when leaving the shelter.

Use the SAF-T Agreement Between Resident and Shelter (found in the Forms section). This form will allow you to legally obtain ownership of the pet(s) should the resident abandon or be in a position where s/he cannot care for their pet(s). This will allow you and/or your partner animal protection organization to place the pet(s) for adoption, rescue or other disposition.

What is the cost of set up and maintenance?
The cost of establishing your co-sheltering program will depend on which housing model you adopt. The initial start-up costs will likely be more than the maintenance. Many of the existing shelters indicate that they do not have to take funds from their general operating budget to house pets on-site and are funded by community support.

How do we fund our Safe Housing program?
The best way to fund your co-sheltering program is to engage your community, especially those who love animals. People who love animals and donate to animal causes will be a new donor opportunity for your shelter and should not be viewed as “taking away” from donors to animal shelters.

Here are just a few fundraising options to consider:

  • Join in with your partner animal protection organization for a fundraiser for co-sheltering and consider splitting the proceeds. Your partner animal protection organization should understand that your program is reducing the number of pets of domestic violence from entering their over-crowded shelter for adoption. Ask to join in on long-standing fundraisers that your animal protection organization has scheduled, or work to create new fundraising opportunities.
  • Reach out to community groups and classrooms and ask them to “adopt” your co-sheltering program. Be sure to provide a list of items that you need, or a fundraising goal, so that these groups and classrooms know what type of support you need. Consider having these groups host a pet food, toy or blanket drive.
  • Place donation canisters and drop boxes for pet-related items at local stores.
  • Ask local businesses to become a corporate sponsor of your co-sheltering program and include their store name/ logo on materials.
  • Seek to obtain materials and supplies through donations from community residents, your partner animal protection organization, your partner veterinarian, and local pet stores.
  • Be sure to add pet-related items to your shelters’ wish list so that people know what items to donate.

Will we need additional insurance?
It is recommended that you consult with your shelter’s insurance carrier about whether a rider is required with your existing policy that addresses the on-site housing of pets. There may be an additional yearly fee for this service. If your current insurance carrier is unwilling to allow pets on-site, we recommend that you search for other insurance carriers that are more pet-friendly so that you can provide this life-saving service to your clients. Be aware that some insurance carriers may refuse to provide insurance for certain pets. In recent years, there has been an increase in legislative efforts by insurance companies to require families with certain dog breeds to pay higher insurance premiums. Be sure to address this issue with your insurance carrier and if the carrier will require a higher premium for certain dog breeds, considering placing your insurance needs with another carrier that will not discriminate.

Darryl Evey with the High Desert Domestic Violence Program in Victorville, California shared their insurance experience with housing pets on-site. “We sent all the manuals and liability waivers provided to us by Allie Phillips. Their underwriters were very impressed with how well laid out the plan was and how safe the program is. They felt that the additional liability was negligible so did not raise our premium. When we asked about breeds, they did not feel that this should be an issue. The underwriter stated that since these pets would be sleeping with the family in their bedroom, the family would not bring a dangerous pet with them. Dangerous pets are the ones locked in a cage or in the back yard and not given any attention.”

When negotiating insurance coverage, two SAF-T policies should be beneficial to adding a pet rider to your existing policy: (1) only the family and designated shelter staff will interact with the pets; and (2) if a pet arrives that is aggressive or too stressed, your partner animal protection organization is on standby to take the pet.

Are there any legal issues to consider?
We recommend that your co-sheltering program Director consult with an attorney regarding your state and local laws; however, no legal issue is insurmountable, and it should not create apprehension in starting co-sheltering. Below is a list of legal issues discussed in more detail in the full SAF-T manual.

  • Confidentiality of Location and Identity
  • Court Orders and Pet Protection Orders
  • Custody and Ownership Issues
  • Kennel License, Code Enforcement and Special Permits

Sample forms in the SAF-T manual

  • Memorandum of Understanding Between Animal Protection Organization and SAF-T
  • Shelter Supply Checklist for SAF-T
  • SAF-T Intake Form
  • SAF-T Agreement Between Resident and Shelter
  • Procedures for Residents With Pets
  • Consent and Release for Boarding at Animal Protection Organization
  • SAF-T Extended Care Contract
  • SAF-T Resident Evaluation
Thank you RedRover for assisting with this content.

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