Although APA of MO gets a lot of calls from women in the community, they can’t offer women pet services unless they have first sought help from a caseworker or domestic shelter. However, in these cases, APA of MO doesn’t just act as an animal shelter. They also refer women to safe houses that can offer them proper care and guidance.
Allie Phillips, attorney and Director of the National Center for Prosecution of Animal Abuse, sees the value in offsite institutions like APA of MO’s Domestic Violence Pet Assistance Program, but also finds that many families in crisis don’t want to be separated from their pets. In the late 1990s, Phillips created a start-up and safety planning guide for domestic violence shelters to implement legal onsite housing programs for pets. With her program, Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T), domestic violence shelters are partnered with animal rescue organizations and veterinarians who provide guidance on animal sheltering and medical care, as well as expert court testimony regarding animal abuse.
“I know a lot of [domestic women’s] shelters just summarily dismiss the idea (of sheltering pets) because they say, ‘Well we don’t have the money or the space, or we’re worried about allergies,’” says Phillips. “I just wish they’d read the safety start-up guide, because in it, I address every single question they’d have, and they’d see how simple it could be to have a program like this.”
Right now, there are more than 70 domestic violence shelters in the world that have implemented on-site housing for pets. For women who seek refuge, being able to see their pets daily due to programs like SAF-T is a true benefit. On Phillips’ site, Jeanette Aston of Mt. Graham Safe House in Safford, Arizona says, “It seems to be so healing. [Female residents] also see a difference in their pets being here, in comparison to the way they were at home with the abuser.”
More animal shelters like APA of MO are implementing domestic violence pet assistance programs across America and throughout the United Kingdom, but with more than 2,000 animal shelters in the United States alone, there is still more potential to help those affected by domestic violence. Nonprofits National Link Coalition on Domestic Violence and Ahimsa House are working to update the list of animal shelters that provide services to victims of domestic violence so that more women in abusive relationships can have stronger safety nets across the country.
With more animal and human shelters realizing that they can work together to shelter pets from abusive households, they can directly help the mental health and well-being of entire families affected by domestic violence. Most importantly, by sheltering pets while women get their lives back on track, animal shelters like APA of MO are ultimately strengthening bonds between pets and their owners, ensuring that they can stay together while also finding refuge from destructive households. By taking steps to keep families together, these shelters are expanding both their roles in their communities and the types of people they serve.
Top photo via (cc) Flickr User Gonzalo García Jaubert
Second photo courtesy of Animal Protection Association of Missouri