A shelter for the entire family

Few domestic violence shelters accept pets, but new design strategies and initiatives are changing that. Here’s a closer look at what’s needed to make these shelters animal-friendly.

One in three women and one in four men experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetimes, and many of them grapple with the difficult decision of how and when to leave that abusive household.

Often, victims delay leaving for one heartbreakingly simple reason: their pet. 48% of domestic abuse victims delayed leaving their situation because they couldn’t take their pet with them.

Currently, only 15% of
domestic violence shelters in the United States accept pets.

The Purple Leash Project — an initiative from Purina and the nonprofit RedRover — is looking to change all that. Since founding the Purple Leash Project in 2019, Purina has provided more than $1 million to help more domestic abuse shelters become pet-friendly and provide direct support to survivors with pets in need.

​At Purina, we know that pets are family. And we believe that all members of the family are worth protecting. Victims of abuse have a lot of hard decisions to make, and the biggest one is whether or not to leave. If we can help ensure that they can go with their pets, it can help remove a key barrier that prevents far too many victims from leaving.

Dr. Annie Valuska focuses on pet behavior and welfare for Purina

Why keeping pets and people together is so important

Keeping survivors and their pets together offers huge emotional benefits. A survey from the Urban Resource Institute and National Domestic Violence Hotline found that 91% of domestic violence survivors said their pets’ emotional support and physical protection were significant to their ability to survive and to heal.

But making shelters pet-friendly is not an easy task, and the team behind the Purple Leash Project recognizes the challenges institutions face.

“When you're doing the best that you can to help people get back on their feet — and then you want to introduce dogs and cats — it can be really challenging,” said Katie Campbell, director of collaboration and outreach with RedRover. “What we are essentially asking shelters to do is start a new program.”

Over 70% of women in domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, injured or killed a pet as a means of control.

That’s why RedRover and Greater Good Charities have created free “Don’t Forget the Pets” training seminars and resources to help domestic violence shelters learn about designing, starting, and funding a pet program. Through Greater Good’s Rescue Rebuild program, the organizations also partner to design and implement on-site remodeling and construction projects at shelters to make pet-friendly upgrades. Several projects have been supported by the Purple Leash Project, with volunteers from RedRover and Purina helping in the construction.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all model, relatively simple design changes can go a long way in making shelters pet-friendly. That’s why the team behind the Purple Leash Project spends time to develop tailored solutions for each shelter that applies for a grant.

“We meet each shelter where it is and work together to create the best solutions and recommendations to safely house survivors and their pets in a healing environment for all,” said Campbell.

Scroll through the 3-D experience below to see some of these modifications that can make survivors and their animals feel more comfortable.

In order for domestic violence shelters to be truly pet-friendly, it’s not enough to simply design spaces where people and animals in crisis can coexist. Shelters must become places where pets have the potential to thrive, particularly after they themselves have endured so much.

Changing the landscape, one shelter at a time

There are, of course, some domestic violence shelters that simply do not have the space or resources to make changes that would enable them to be pet-friendly, Campbell said. But there are others that are taking on big, ambitious renovations, along with comprehensive services for people and pets. Purina helped Urban Resource Institute, the largest provider of domestic violence shelter services in the U.S., become a leading example of what pet-friendly sheltering can entail through the URI People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program. Purina supported the creation of PALS Place, which offers 30 fully pet-friendly apartments in New York City for domestic violence survivors, along with a securely fenced-in dog area and landscaping aimed at making all pets feel at ease. URI PALS has grown to more than 170 apartments in seven New York City shelters for domestic violence survivors and their pets to live and heal together.

And the Purple Leash Project is also inching closer to its goal of helping to ensure that at least 25% of domestic violence shelters are pet-friendly by 2025, so that ultimately no one has to remain with an abuser because they can’t find support that includes caring for their pet when they leave.

“We are on a mission to change the future of domestic violence survivor services to include and care for survivors and their pets,” said Nina Leigh Krueger, CEO of Purina. “The more shelters we’re able to convert into pet-friendly spaces, the more likely it is that other shelters will see how it’s working, learn from them, and be willing to follow their lead.”