In the News: All in the Family: Keeping women and their pets together through the crisis of domestic violence

Originally Published by Best Friends Animal Society.

June 02, 2010, 4:47PM MT
By Kama Einhorn, Best Friends Network volunteer


Diamond the PomeranianDiamond is a happy 9-month-old Pomeranian who recently spent three days in foster care. The pup didn't know it, of course, but that foster home — and the people who moved swiftly to arrange it — was a key factor in keeping her human guardian safe from harm, and possibly the reason she didn't end up in a shelter.

There are many reasons pets are surrendered at shelters. Here is an especially heartbreaking one: a woman dearly loves her pet, but must leave her home immediately because her own physical safety is in jeopardy. 

Similarly, there are many reasons a victim of domestic violence opts not to go to a shelter or safe house. But, thanks to a newly formed partnership between the Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) of Stamford, Connecticut, with Outreach to Pets in Need (OPIN), the fear of abandoning a pet doesn't have to be one of them. Together, the organizations will work to provide foster care services for pets whose guardians enter the DVCC's SafeHouses in Stamford or Norwalk.

Diamond was the very first pet to be helped by this new program. "We're just in the beginning of this process, and our focus right now is getting a network of foster homes in place," said Jenny Colucci, OPIN's co-founder. "So this was on an emergency basis, and a bit premature for us. But it is a true success. We picked Diamond up on a Monday at the crisis center and she was reunited with her guardian that Wednesday."

Her foster caregiver was a volunteer for OPIN with a flexible work schedule. She has no other pets because she and her husband move around a lot, but wanted a way to help pets and women at the same time.

"At first, Diamond was clingy and initially seemed afraid of my husband," her foster caregiver said. She understood that Diamond would need more care and attention than an animal coming from a peaceful home. "It was bittersweet when she left," she remembered. "I was so happy she was going back to her permanent guardian, but I missed her! I tried to mentally prepare myself for that, and I'll do the same next time I foster. I loved how DVCC, OPIN, and myself all came together and helped — and it worked!"

And if you've ever seen a very happy Pomeranian in action, you can imagine the beauty of the reunion.

The Domestic Violence Crisis Center offers confidential services at no charge, including court and legal services, group and individual counseling, temporary shelter, housing services, children’s services, medical advocacy, multilingual services, PeaceWorks prevention education and a 24-hour hotline (1-888-774-2900). Now, this new program represents a huge step forward in the understanding of the word "family." Family includes pets.

"This partnership is so important for victims of domestic abuse who have pets and fear for their safety," said Cyndy Goldberg, director of the DVCC SafeHouses. "It's heartbreaking when a woman who needs and wants a safe place to stay decides not to come to us because there is no way to accommodate her pet."

Abusers often threaten the welfare of pets in order to control the victim. Afraid to leave her pets behind, the abused woman may choose not to leave her situation. Goldberg says that several women each year decide not to come to a DVCC SafeHouse because of their pets, and there are undoubtedly others who don't call in the first place, because they know they can't bring their pets.

Because the program is so new, OPIN's immediate goal is to build a network of people who are willing to open their homes to a pet for a temporary stay. DVCC works to help women become settled in a safe, stable place within 60 days. 

"Fostering is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to those in need, both human victims and those they care deeply about, the companion animals who have found a place in their hearts," said OPIN co-founder Jenny Colucci. "OPIN will coordinate the foster home and provide medical care, food and supplies if necessary. But it goes without saying that without foster homes, this exciting opportunity can't exist."

Because of obvious confidentiality and safety concerns, Diamond's loving permanent guardian cannot be identified or make a statement. All DVCC and OPIN can say is that she and Diamond are living together in safety and peace. And that's a lot.

What you can do:

  • If you live in the area, offer your home as a temporary safe haven for pets. Applications to join the SafePet foster network may be found here.
  • Make a monetary donation to OPIN, P.O. Box 488, Riverside, CT  06878, or for further details email:, website:
  • Make a monetary donation to DVCC, 777 Summer Street, Stamford CT 06901, (203) 588 9100.