WAN Exclusive On Animal Welfare Institute’s National Directory That Includes 1200 ‘Safe Havens’ For Domestic Abuse Victims & Their Pets

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an increasingly important time of the year to shine a light on a dim situation that affects more than 10 million people in the United States each year, many who have pets that they consider to be family.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

Sadly, and surprisingly to many, fear for their pet’s safety is one of the main reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. Not knowing where they can find safe refuge with their pets if they do decide to leave also factors into delaying their escape.

WAN had the opportunity to speak with Mary Lou Randour, senior advisor for the animals and family violence program at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the nonprofit organization responsible for creating and maintaining the country’s first national directory of “safe havens” where domestic violence survivors and their pets are welcome. The organization was also involved in the passage of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act in 2018.

Safe havens operate differently from community to community. They can be independent nonprofit organizations or formal partnerships between domestic violence agencies and animal agencies or groups. Some rely on networks of foster care homes or are allowed to use the additional kennel space of a local humane society or veterinarian facility. In some cases, domestic violence shelters house survivors and pets together. Other facilities house only the pets on-site while domestic violence survivors are housed elsewhere.

According to Randour, the emphasis is now put on trying to create co-housing where survivors, children, and pets are housed in the same place; sometimes in the same room, sometimes in different areas on the same site.

“Animal Welfare Institute developed the ‘Safe HavenFor Pets Mapping Project’ national directory 12 years ago after realizing that one did not exist,” Randour, a decades-long clinical psychologist who now applies her vast skillset to include the welfare of animals, told WAN.

Now, the largest of its kind, the growing database currently features 1,200 sheltering services in all 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia that are searchable by zip code and often updated.

The website also contains manuals for each state available to help survivors on how to use the database, as well as links to funding opportunities for safe haven programs, along with information on safety planning and how to include companion animals in temporary restraining orders.

“The research is abundantly clear that there is a significant link between domestic violence and pet abuse,” continued Randour, who has been with Animal Welfare Institute for 11 years. “Domestic violence survivors should not be forced to stay with their abusers or abandon beloved pets because they have nowhere else to go. We need sufficient resources in every state to meet the incredible demand.”

Randour also stressed the importance of having the most current and accurate information as possible for someone who is in danger or distress.

According to Randour, spreading awareness that the Safe Haven Mapping Project exists is equally important, “because if people don’t know about it, they won’t use it.” That is why six months ago, the organization brought on board a social media team to help reach a wider audience, including younger generations.

“The team also works with the safe havens to foster communication between people in similar situations, as well as with the resources that are available to help them,” continued Randour. “Now, they can talk to each other and share tips, solutions, and other valuable information.”

Since it launched more than a decade ago, the Safe Haven Mapping Project national directory has been accessed tens of thousands of times each year. It is also listed on the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website.

Continuing to address this important topic, later this week WAN will share another exclusive about Peaceworks, a Colorado-based safe haven that is one of the few in the country that also provides foster care for farm animals of domestic abuse victims.

Donations to assist the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens Mapping Project can be made HERE! Donors should write “Safe Havens” on their donation form and it will be allotted to the program. 

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