Safe Pet Program
Snapshot View of Practice
Crossroads Resource Centre’s Safe Pet program offers care for the pets of residents and outreach clients. The program ensures that the pets’ basic needs like food, bedding, and health are met. Survivors can either keep their pets with them if there is space in the emergency shelter or they can house them in the on-site kennel facility. As a result of this program, people no longer have to choose between leaving their pets behind or staying in abusive relationships.
Name of Shelter
Type of Shelter
What is Safe Pet Program
This program offers residents and outreach clients of the shelter a way to keep their pets safe and with them. The program ensures that the pets’ basic needs like food, bedding, and healthcare are met. Survivors can either keep their pets with them in their room if there is space in the emergency shelter or the on-site kennel facility after an initial health and behaviour assessment. The onsite kennel facility is a separate covered building at the corner of the shelter facility. It is equipped with 3 large kennels and 2 small kennels, heating, a wash station, storage, and a radio for the pets to feel comfortable and not alone. The kennel can house up to 5 animals at the same time and the interior can be adapted to suit the current demands of the kennel. As a result of this program, people no longer have to choose between leaving their pets behind or staying in abusive relationships.
“The bonds with animals we know, and we see, are so important. We understand how important they are for therapy and overall mental health.”
Crossroads Resource Centre has always accepted pets, but their services were limited by size and capacity. For example, they could have one cat or one small dog at the shelter, but never two or three dogs at a time. They did have kennel arrangements with local vets and in the community, but this meant that clients could not see their pets on the weekend or after work hours, which was an anguish for them. They recognized that this was becoming a barrier for their clients, and they were having to turn clients away due to lack of capacity. The team of shelter staff were also pet owners and animal lovers and recognized the value of pets for the mental well-being of their clients. Creating a pet-inclusive service was always at the back of management’s mind; in 2020, they finally had the opportunity to secure funding and make it happen.
How does the program work
To start, the shelter staff visited kennels and SPCA sites to see what worked and what they needed in terms of design before applying for and securing grants. With support from a contractor, they built the kennel in an unused area of the shelter property that could be accessed by clients easily. They opened this service in 2022.
When a client calls in, there is an initial pet assessment regarding the breed, health, and behaviour. Once the client is at the shelter, there is a detailed assessment. If the pet has any issues, they will be put in the kennel instead of staying with the resident in their room to ensure the safety of staff and other clients. Otherwise, depending on space availability, the pet can either stay with the client in their room or at the kennel.
The shelter offers a detailed orientation of what is expected from the pet owner, like taking the pet for walks, cleaning up after them, maintaining the wash stations, etc. The pet owner lets everyone know whether other residents can pet their animals or take them for walks. Staff support clients to look after their pets as needed. Clients without pets are also given orientation about the shelter’s policy around pets. The program works in collaboration with local vets to provide health care and with a college animal health technology program that offers advice on animal behaviour. They also receive food donations and other support for the pets from the community.
The shelter informs new staff about their pet policy and related expectations during interviews. Some shelter staff are trained in PIJAC Canada’s Pet Care Training Program and are familiar with the behavioural needs of animals that may have witnessed trauma. No additional staff are hired to look after the pets as the pet owners are expected to continue caring for them while in the shelter.
What is the impact of this program
Even though they are a small shelter with only 10 beds, and the community has only 3,500 people, there has not been a month where they have not had animals present since opening the kennels. The increased capacity to house pets enables more clients to access their services who previously could not. The success of the program is that people are not having to choose between leaving their pets behind or staying in abusive relationships.
“Just the virtue of having the kennel and being able to take away that barrier for women and not turning them away is so important. Also, the success has been in seeing how families are so happy when they come in and have their pet with them.”
Challenges in Implementing
- The financial cost is high. Vet bills, grooming, food costs, and increased utility costs add to the shelter’s bills.
- Different breeds, levels of aggression, and behavioural patterns of pets can be a challenging issue, especially when they are kenneled together.
- There are different understandings of what is considered clean. The shelter had to develop policies around cleaning practices and tools to be used for cleaning.
- Handling emerging crises and pivoting, while learning from experience. For example, there were puppies born in the kennel and then abandoned. The shelter had to scramble to care for them and get them adopted. This pointed to the need for a policy around what happens when pets are abandoned at the shelter. Similarly, they have also learned there is a need for a policy around pets causing damage to the kennel.
Tips for those who wish to do something similar
- Research the type of pet services you wish to offer along with your team. Talk to your local vets, your SPCA, and other shelters about their programs. You can visit different kinds of kennels to develop your idea and preferences and inform the design of your kennel.
- When the pets have more space, they are more comfortable and well-behaved.
- Train your staff to handle behavioural issues with pets as the pets may be traumatized from violence
- Research your by-laws. Talk to your community members and municipality to mobilize support. Sometimes they may allow you to do things differently because you are a shelter.
- Talk and engage with your staff and have regular meetings. Be respectful of their needs. Communicate information and be ready to re-evaluate policies around pet care with their input