It’s Catching on: Co-Housing Pets and People Experiencing Domestic Violence

By Allie Phillips, Esq.

Attorney, Founder & CEO of Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T)™, a global initiative working with domestic violence shelters to create on-site pet housing.

Just a decade ago, in 2008, housing pets with their families in a domestic violence shelter was unheard of. About ten years before that when I came up with the SAF-T housing concept as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, a shelter laughed at me when I asked for housing for a woman, her 2 dogs and a goat. That laugh and the denial of shelter for this woman, who walked hand-in-hand out of the courtroom with her abuser, resulted in what I call “the download” of the SAF-T Program into my brain.

When I wrote the first guidelines for domestic violence shelters to house pets in 2008, I had identified less than a handful of shelters providing pet housing on-site. Teaching at conference after conference and offering webinars to domestic violence coalitions, domestic violence shelters and animal sheltering partners resulted in some strange looks when I laid out the housing options, and sometimes near empty workshop rooms. But I kept going because I knew it was groundbreaking work and doing what’s right is never easy or popular.

Over 100 presentations and counting, the program has grown to 150-200 shelters (verification of shelter programs is still ongoing) and continues to grow. And in 2018 SAF-T officially became a non-profit organization.

It is amazing the progress that has happened in a relatively short period of time. It’s catching on …. But not soon enough for too many victims of domestic violence.

Currently there are 40 states that have at least one verified SAF-T Shelter, and there are SAF-T shelters in Australia, Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand, with growing interest in many Spanish-speaking countries thanks to an amazing SAF-T board members. But what about families with pets in states without a SAF-T shelter or in other countries?

I feel that the SAF-T Program is growing because more attention has been given to the human-animal bond in the past decade (primarily with the coverage of pets during Hurricane Katrina). With the focus on rescuing and housing pets during a natural disaster, the same concept applies to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence understand this and have been asking shelters to allow their pets to come into shelter. So I believe that this is being driven by the clients of shelters combined with the education and tools available from the SAF-T Program.

Why is SAF-T so important? One simple math equation explains why.

When a family cannot flee an abusive home with their pet, they have few options: (1) leave the abusive home knowing that their pet(s) may be harmed or killed, or used as pawns to lure the family back for continued violence, (2) stay in the abusive home and risk the lives of children and pets, while normalizing violence for young children, (3) become homeless. None of these options are acceptable when there is a simple solution.

What’s on the horizon for the SAF-T Program? My to-do list with SAF-T is endless. But my Critical 5 List (as I call it) involves significant projects that I have been working on and will continue to work on:

(1) ensuring that every state has at least one SAF-T shelter,

(2) assisting shelters to include pets in transitional housing programs so that there is a not a break in the continuum of care,

(3) updating and publishing the 3rd edition of the SAF-T Start-Up Manual which has been instrumental in the shelters to set up a successful and sustainable pet housing program,

(4) identifying shelter partners for a SAF-T Shelter Advisory Coalition where we can work together to fill gaps and expand awareness, and

(5) funding as SAF-T is a new nonprofit as of 2018 and more of my time (plus additional staff) is needed to fulfill needs of the program.

I call these the Critical 5 List because each of these items is critical to the foundation of SAF-T, supporting SAF-T shelters and helping more families get to a SAF-T shelter sooner with the listing of SAF-T shelters online.

I am also assisting and supporting Link-related legislative issues, such as the federal PETS Act bill, to raise awareness of this problem, to open up federal funding channels, and give more tools/penalties to investigators and prosecutors handling crimes where animal abuse links to family violence.  And continuing to provide in-person and online training to domestic violence shelters, state coalitions and working with national domestic violence organizations.

I have often been asked why I created the SAF-T Program considering that for a decade I have not been paid for this work and I have multiple other business that keep me busy. The answer for me is simple: I saw a void in services that no one was addressing and I came up with a simplistic model so that shelters would not feel overwhelmed when welcoming pets on-site. It would be selfish for me not to share this. For me, SAF-T saves lives and it’s a passion. That is why I do this.

To learn more about SAF-T, visit the website at where you can become a SAF-T Champion and donate to support the life saving work of SAF-T.


Allie Phillips is an internationally recognized attorney, author, educator and advocate for animals and vulnerable victims and was awarded as a Top Defender of Animals in 2015. She is the Founder & CEO of Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) and is a recognized legal expert on the linkage between violence to animals and people, sheltering pets of domestic violence, human-animal interactions, and therapy animals helping crime victims. She was an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Michigan and has trained prosecutors and criminal justice professionals since 1997. She has worked for the National District Attorneys Association where she founded and directed the National Center for Prosecution of Animal Abuse and was Deputy Director of the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse. She also worked for the American Humane Association as the Vice President of Public Policy and Vice President of Human-Animal Strategic Initiatives. She has conducted over 400 trainings and written over 50 publications, including 2 books. Ms. Phillips privately consults and teaches for organizations including the Institute of Human-Animal Connection at University of Denver. She is also the owner of a wellness business called Manifested Harmony where she helps people and pets with natural healing options. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, by the Associated Press, and in The Washington Post, USA Today, and national animal radio talk shows.

Allie Phillips


Author . Attorney . Advocate . Educator

Named one of America’s Top Animal Defenders of 2015

Founder, Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T)

Co-Creator, Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK)

Award winning author of Defending the Defenseless: A Guide to Protecting and Advocating for Pets and How Shelter Pets are Brokered for Experimentation: Understanding Pound Seizure