SAF-T Program® FAQs

Why is the SAF-T Program needed?

How can pets be housed at a domestic violence shelter?

“In the over two years since starting this program [in Summer 2009], we have not had a single negative interaction with a pet.” – Darryl Evey, High Desert Domestic Violence Program (Victorville, California)

Option 1: Housing pets inside the Resident’s Room. Allow residents to house pets within their rooms. Shelters currently allowing pets in the rooms primarily allow smaller and/or non-allergenic pets inside the rooms. Designating certain rooms as “pet friendly” or “no pets” will help with allergy concerns. Hard flooring and mattresses with protective covers also help to control pet allergies being transmitted throughout a central air system.

Amsterdam Netherlands

Option 2: Housing Pets in an Indoor Kennel. Locate a separate room within the shelter that can safely house the animals in separate cages or crates, or turn a basement into a kennel. This indoor kennel option reduces potential issues with allergies and noise. 

Fort Walton, Florida

Option 3: Housing in an Outdoor Kennel. Provide secure and sheltered housing directly on the shelter property. Back yard locations are the most popular for this option. Options can include: (1) an outdoor kennel which is comprised of building chain- link kennels with sheltering (roof and side-wall protection); or (2) A small outdoor building or shed kennel on the shelter property. Proper heating, cooling and ventilation is required for these set-ups.

Hermitage, Pennsylvania

Option 4: Pets in Transitional Housing. If your shelter has a transitional housing program, it’s important to have pet-housing for the a continuum of safety. Some options include locating a pet-friendly rental and helping the resident with a pet deposit. Developing a list of potential pet-friendly housing options in the community is an excellent partnering opportunity for shelters and animal protection organizations. Or check out

How are allergies to pets handled?

Pet-related allergies are common, and you should anticipate that some residents may have allergies to a variety of pets. Pet-related odors may also cause issues with some staff and residents.

Many allergic reactions to pets happen when someone touches a pet. Other residents and non-approved staff should not interact with and touch a pet in the SAF-T Program. A shelter can also designate specific rooms as pet-friendly and others as off limits to pets. Hard flooring in a room can help to easily clean pet dander and fur in between residents. Air purifiers or air filters in central heating/air vents can also help to limit the transfer of pet dander.

The shelter intake form should ask every resident to identify any pet allergies they have. This may help with placement of pet-allergy residents in rooms farthest away from rooms with pets.

Should the pet interact with other residents?

For the well being of the pet, as well as for the safety of the family, shelter staff and shelter residents, it is important for pets to not free-roam or interact unsupervised with others. Because some families may not understand their pet’s behavior or how the pet will react to meeting new people, the best practice is to minimize outside interaction with the pet. This rule may be important when seeking insurance coverage for housing pets on-site.

Do we have to accept all types of pets?

Each co-sheltering program should decide what types, sizes and number of pets can be accommodated safely on-site, since that decision will determine the types of accommodations required. Some shelters are able to accommodate small dogs, cats, and pocket pets, while others are able to accommodate larger animals or even farm animals. Being able to accept pets, even in a limited capacity, is a great step toward helping more people reach safety.

Do we need to partner with any other agencies?

When establishing SAF-T, it is important to bring other professionals together to support your program: (1) partner with an animal protection organization to help with behavior issues, or housing excessive or large animals; (2) partner with a veterinarian to assist with animal care, and (3) partner with a homeless shelter/agency due to the high number of domestic violence survivors with pets who are homeless.

Included in the SAF-T manual is a sample MOU that you can customize to use with your partner agencies. That way everyone’s role is understood and agreed upon before the first pet is welcomed into your shelter.

What is the cost of set up and maintenance?

The cost of establishing your co-sheltering program will depend on which housing model you adopt. The initial start-up costs will likely be more than the maintenance. Many of the existing shelters indicate that they do not have to take funds from their general operating budget to house pets on-site and are funded by community support

How do we fund our SAF-T program?

The best way to fund your co-sheltering program is to engage your community, especially those who love animals. People who love animals and donate to animal causes will be a new donor opportunity for your shelter and should not be viewed as “taking away” from donors to animal shelters. For specific ideas to help your shelter, schedule a call with SAF-T Founder/CEO Allie Phillips.

What happens if the family returns to the abusive home with their pet?

Situations arise where a resident returns to an abusive partner. Given that children and pets may be returned to an environment known to be abusive, your shelter should follow existing protocols and state law in this regard. This may call for notifying child protective services that a child may be returning to a dangerous home. If that is the case, then local animal protection agencies may also be notified if a pet is being returned to an abusive home. An option to consider is asking the resident if she will sign over ownership of the pet to your SAF-T program, which then allows you place the pet with your partner animal protection organization for placement in a new home. Seek guidance from your animal protection partner in this regard.

What if a resident abandons their pet?

There may be situations where a resident with a pet is unable to take their pet with them when leaving the shelter.

Use the SAF-T Agreement Between Resident and Shelter (found in the Start-Up Manual). This form will allow you to legally obtain ownership of the pet(s) should the resident abandon or be in a position where s/he cannot care for their pet(s). This will allow you and/or your partner animal protection organization to place the pet(s) for adoption, rescue or other disposition

Will we need additional insurance?

It is recommended that you consult with your shelter’s insurance carrier about whether a rider is required with your existing policy that addresses the on-site housing of pets. There may be an additional yearly fee for this service. If your current insurance carrier is unwilling to allow pets on-site, we recommend that you search for other insurance carriers that are more pet-friendly so that you can provide this life-saving service to your clients. Be aware that some insurance carriers may refuse to provide insurance for certain pets. In recent years, there has been an increase in legislative efforts by insurance companies to require families with certain dog breeds to pay higher insurance premiums. Be sure to address this issue with your insurance carrier and if the carrier will require a higher premium for certain dog breeds, considering placing your insurance needs with another carrier that will not discriminate.

Darryl Evey with the High Desert Domestic Violence Program in Victorville, California shared their insurance experience with housing pets on-site. “We sent all the manuals and liability waivers provided to us by Allie Phillips. Their underwriters were very impressed with how well laid out the plan was and how safe the program is. They felt that the additional liability was negligible so did not raise our premium. When we asked about breeds, they did not feel that this should be an issue. The underwriter stated that since these pets would be sleeping with the family in their bedroom, the family would not bring a dangerous pet with them. Dangerous pets are the ones locked in a cage or in the back yard and not given any attention.”

When negotiating insurance coverage, two SAF-T policies should be beneficial to adding a pet rider to your existing policy: (1) only the family and designated shelter staff will interact with the pets; and (2) if a pet arrives that is aggressive or too stressed, your partner animal protection organization is on standby to take the pet.

Are there any legal issues to consider?

We recommend that your co-sheltering program Director consult with an attorney or your animal shelter partner regarding any local ordinance regarding housing animals. A shelter should also talk to the resident about any protective orders regarding pets, or custody disputes, so that these legal issues and court orders are made known. As an attorney, no legal issue is insurmountable, and it should not create apprehension in starting co-sheltering.