People experiencing domestic violence are half as likely to leave their abuser and seek shelter if they can’t bring pets with them, and more likely to return to dangerous situations for the sake of their pets. 

Yet, less than 10 domestic violence shelters in Georgia currently allow people to bring their pets. That’s a barrier nationwide. 

Liberty House of Albany, a 21-bed domestic violence shelter and crisis line provider, will soon be added to Georgia’s list of pet-friendly shelter providers. Liberty House serves 17 counties in Southwest Georgia. 

It's building three new “pet retreats,” rooms where residents can house their pets on site. They’ll also have a fenced-in yard. 

Katie Campbell is director of collaboration and outreach at RedRover, one nonprofit funding the project. 

“I think the really great thing about becoming pet-friendly is, yes, we remove a barrier to safety and service, but it's also just a huge benefit to the healing process,” Campbell said. “And it's a huge benefit to the organization themselves.”

That's because the majority of domestic violence survivors have reported that pets provide valuable emotional support. 

The renovations at Liberty House are the latest project under a volunteer-led partnership between RedRover, Greater Good Charities and others that helps domestic violence shelters around the U.S. transition to pet-friendly spaces, free of cost, as part of an effort to make 25% of U.S. shelters pet-friendly. 

Bryna Donnelly with Greater Good Charities Rescue Rebuild program said every project is different. 

Is there perhaps another space that can be converted into kennels or perhaps a cat cage area? Or do we need to consider dropping an entirely new building just to be able to house pets somewhere outside of the actual footprint of the shelter?” Donnelly said. 

In the case of Liberty House, a separate building was necessary. But there are simple ways shelters can create more welcoming spaces for people with pets, too. 

“How can you control the flow of traffic through your shelter to keep pets going in one direction and hopefully other people that are non-pet owners going in a different direction?” Donnelly said. This can help people with allergies, or who are scared of animals. “Just little, little things like that that are really not expensive, are really not hard to manage and mitigate.”

For domestic violence shelters that can’t accept pets, there are other options. In Georgia, Ahimsa House partners with shelters in most counties, to help domestic violence survivors find temporary placement for their pets through boarding and foster homes. 

Lots of folks don't even understand that this is an issue for a lot of survivors,” said Oné Carrington, community services advocate for Ahimsa House. “It's like leaving a child behind in a violent situation.”

Carrington says in many cases, abusers may use pets as a control tactic, threatening abuse against the pet to get a family member or spouse to stay. 

“We're trying to let survivors know that there are options, and that you should not have to choose between wanting safety for yourself or safety for your animals,” Carrington said. 

But as animal shelters become more overcrowded, Ahimsa House is facing a shortage of foster homes, and high costs for pet boarding. She said they’ve had to limit the number of pets they can help. 

Plus, reports of family violence spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. That left a lot of people looking for help. 

Four in 10 women and 3 in 10 men experience domestic violence in Georgia. Rates of intimate partner violence are often higher among people with unstable housing, and those who identify as LGBTQ+ or transgender.