New London’s Safe Futures leads the way for state
Connecticut now has its first pet-friendly domestic violence shelter. Safe Futures, which services all of New London County, offers emergency and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, as well as two 24-hour hotlines, advocacy programs, support groups, and community education and awareness. So far, Safe Futures is the only member of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence that allows survivors seeking shelter to bring with them their pets.
Though the program is still new, Safe Futures has already seen promising trends. Anecdotally, staff have found that survivors are staying at the shelter longer and are less likely to return to their abusers. It is difficult to say whether this is because of the emotional support offered by the pets or because survivors are not worrying about a pet left behind, but this outcome may encourage other shelters in Connecticut to look into implementing their own pet-friendly policies.
Safe Futures’ new policy is thanks in part to a $15,000 grant from Red Rover, a Sacramento-based organization dedicated to protecting animals from a wide range of dangerous situations, including domestic abuse. This grant will go towards improving Safe Futures’ facilities’ fencing so that dogs can play off-leash in addition to creating space for cats and covering veterinary bills and other pet supplies.
An estimated 71% of domestic violence victims with pets report that their abuser also targeted animals in the house, according to Katie Campbell of Red Rover. Campbell says that domestic abusers are often violent towards pets for “many of the same reasons children are targeted. The pet is an easy target. It’s an easy way to enforce control over a victim. And for many victims and survivors, the only source of comfort is the pet.” Before Safe Futures was able to officially accommodate pets, several staff members admit to knowingly turning a blind eye when residents brought their pets to the shelter.
It has long been understood that pets can have a special ability to help humans heal. One staff member at Safe Futures describes a 9-year-old boy who was unable to communicate verbally after the trauma sustained in an abusive situation. The boy found himself able to speak again through his dog; if he had been separated from his beloved pet when entering Safe Futures, it is possible this boy’s recovery would have been much more complex and drawn-out.
In addition to the pets that are now welcome at Safe Futures, the program also has three staff members focused on improving residents’ quality of life — Luna, a white boxer pup, and Jack and Jill, two Russian Blue cats. All three are available to provide comfort to survivors at Safe Futures. Residents can also find joy in helping to train Luna as a licensed therapy dog.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in light of Safe Futures’ successful implementation of pet-friendly policies, is working with shelters across the state to help them develop programming that works for their individual communities.