Purina Purple Leash Project Grant Helps Make a Domestic Violence Shelter Pet-Friendly

The woman is coming out of the shelter

Safe Voices, a domestic violence shelter in Maine, has welcomed domestic violence survivors since 1979. And they have long recognized the link between pets and their people — in fact, the shelter staff view pets as part of the family and believe that all members of the family deserve to feel safe in their homes. This is what drove their decision to become a pet-friendly organization in 2019.

While the decision was not hard to make, at first, it was difficult to envision what was even possible. Only 10% of domestic violence shelters in the nation welcomed pets onsite at that time.

They took the bold first step and applied for and received a RedRover + Purina Purple Leash Project grant, which would enable them to become the FIRST pet-friendly shelter in the state of Maine!

“Receiving the Purple Leash Project grant meant that families no longer had to make the difficult decision whether to remain in an unsafe situation with their pets or leave their beloved family members behind in order to flee to safety,” said Safe Voices Director of Shelter and Housing Services, Noelle Coyne.

With support from the Purina and RedRover grant secured, Safe Voices met with RedRover and Greater Good Charities’ Rescue Rebuild program, which specializes in construction projects at pet and domestic violence shelters, to get a construction plan together and could not wait to get started on their renovation.

With a plan in place, they overcame the biggest barrier – finding an insurance company that would include pets in their policy – and, in August, the transformation began.

Over several weeks, RedRover volunteers and the Greater Good Charities’ Rescue Rebuild team installed privacy fencing for a dog play yard, poured a new sidewalk, built dog kennels, installed a dog waste station and doggy doors, created cat enrichment projects such as cat bridges and cat shelving, and more.

Safe Voices Executive Director Elise Johansen said, “Even with barriers, this project was so worth it! We have been able to see firsthand the changes that having pets on site has made, not only to the pet parents but to the overall shelter. The other guests have enjoyed the love and companionship these animals provide and make the shelter feel more like a home. And the staff, who do hard work every single day, also benefit from a kitty snuggle or playing catch with a pup in the backyard.”

Becoming the first pet-friendly shelter in the state has brought an immense sense of pride. So much so, that they decided to keep going.

“We are such animal lovers here at Safe Voices, so it was an easy decision to move forward with our second pet-friendly shelter just three years later," said Johansen. “We have had wonderful opportunities to partner with our sibling agencies across the state to shelter survivors from their area when it is necessary to shelter pets as well, but seeing the energy and excitement from the other domestic violence shelters about becoming pet-friendly is amazing. It means that many more survivors will be able to flee with their pets.”

Their new goal is “to have Maine be the first state in the country where ALL domestic violence shelters are pet-friendly.”

“We were so thrilled to support Safe Voices in becoming the first pet-friendly domestic violence shelter in the state of Maine,” said Katie Campbell, RedRover Director of Collaboration and Outreach. “Not only were they the first to become pet-friendly, but they are also committed to helping their sibling organizations along the same journey.”

Rescue Rebuild’s Vice President of Pet Programs added, “We love helping domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly, but when they're the first to take this huge leap in their state, and encourage others to follow, it makes our work all the more rewarding.”

The decision serve survivors and their pets continues to be one that is paying dividends for survivors and staff.

When asked about the benefits of becoming pet-friendly, Coyne said, “Pets make the shelter feel more like a home. They provide protection, companionship, unconditional love, a distraction, exercise, a reason to get out of bed every day. They lower stress levels. They provide a common bond between guests that doesn’t revolve around their trauma. When we shelter an animal, we have seen the benefits it can provide to the entire house, so much so that if there is a time when we don’t have a pet guest in the house, we will have Safe Voice’s therapy dog in training come over and visit just to lower the stress and feel the love.”

Currently 17% of domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets onsite, and our goal is to see 25% of shelters become pet-friendly by 2025!

You can help us increase the number of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters nationwide. Your gift to RedRover in support of the Purple Leash Project will help more people and their pets escape domestic abuse together. With a recurring donation of at least $5 a month, or a one-time gift of $60 or more, you will receive our limited-edition purple dog leash or cat collar featuring our Purple Leash Project motto: Walk. Heal. Together.

Hear more about Safe Voices’ journey to become pet-friendly here: https://www.petliferadio.com/behaveep475.html

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