The Greene County Family Justice Center is located at 1418 E. Pythian St. (Photo by Rance Burger)

The SafePet Program is a relatively new pet fostering program that allows victims of domestic violence to temporarily place their beloved pet in a safe and confidential foster home while they go into an emergency shelter like Harmony House. When the survivor is able to transition into their own place, they are then reunited with their pet. 

The SafePet Program is a partnership between Rescue One, a local foster-based animal rescue group, and the Greene County Family Justice Center, a one-stop-shop service provider for survivors of abuse.

Rescue One shared on social media recently that the SafePet Program needs more foster families willing to participate in this unique and life-saving program.

“We have women waiting NOW for a place for their pets to go,” the post reads in part. “Many victims will stay with their abuser for fear of their pet’s safety should they leave the pet behind and most shelters do not allow pets. Since starting our SafePet Program last July, 36 pets have found safe haven with us. We are seeing a greater need than anticipated and desperately need foster homes for this program!” 

Abusers often use pets to control, terrorize

Jamie Willis, director of programs at the Greene County Family Justice Center, said it’s very common for abusers to use pets as a way to control and terrorize their victims. There’s also a well-documented connection between domestic violence and animal abuse, she said.

This is Jamie Willis, program director at the Greene County Family Justice Center.
Jamie Willis is program director at the Greene County Family Justice Center. (Photo: Greene County Family Justice Center)

“For a large majority of our clients, their abusers will use any tactic that they think will work to try to gain power and control,” Willis said. “A lot of abusers use their children and their animals as a way to control the victim because it’s something that they really care about.

“A lot of our clients that are eligible for shelter that are in a very dangerous situation are afraid to leave their animals behind,” she continued. “They’re afraid that their abuser will either harm or potentially kill their animals as a way to maintain power over them.”

According to Rescue One’s post, the average time a foster home has an animal with the SafePet Program is two weeks to two months. During that time, all food, supplies and vet care are provided by Rescue One. 

If someone wants to support this program but is unable to foster, they can make a tax-deductible donation to Rescue One to help provide that food and supplies. 

Rescue One does not take animals in from the public for this program. All animals come through the Greene County Family Justice Center and local domestic violence shelters. 

If you are a victim, you must reach out to the Greene County Family Justice Center for information and to start the application process. 

Foster homes remain confidential

The Greene County Family Justice Center serves as the “go-between” between the pet’s owner and Rescue One. 

“The foster home is confidential,” Willis explained. “The victim doesn’t know exactly where their animal is, but they do get weekly updates. They just bring their animal to the Family Justice Center once (their application) is approved, and Rescue One will meet us here, and they’ll take the animal until that person is in a safe place where they can be reunited.”

Reunification day is “the most beautiful thing,” Willis said. 

This is a photo of a small dog named Tanner.
This is Tanner, who is dead now. Tanner belonged to a local survivor of domestic violence named Lisa. Her ex tried to use Tanner to control Lisa and eventually killed the dog. Stories like Lisa’s led to the creation of the PetSafe Program, a partnership between Rescue One and the Greene County Family Justice Center. (Photo: submitted)

“When someone first comes to the Family Justice Center, they are usually at a place where they have kind of lost all hope,” she said. “They are going through something really traumatic that they can’t see a way out of on their own. 

“And deciding to foster your animal in this program is a hard decision to make because you know you won’t see them for a while,” Willis said. “Once they have housing and a safe place to stay and are really stable again and then get to reunite with that loved one, their animal — you can just see the relief on their faces.”

To anyone considering becoming a “foster pet parent” for this program, Willis wants them to know this: “By providing someone with this gift, they really are providing a chance at life again for someone that otherwise doesn’t feel like they could leave that situation.”

To apply to be a foster or make a donation for the PetSafe Program, visit Rescue One’s website.

Do you need help?

The Greene County Family Justice Center provides a wide range of services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, human trafficking and child abuse in the Springfield/Greene County area. These services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and non-judgmental. 

Services include crisis intervention, safety planning, assistance filing a restraining order or police report, assistance getting into emergency shelter, basic legal information, crisis counseling and child protection services. 

Walk-ins are welcome and encouraged. The Greene County Family Justice Center is located at 1418 E. Pythian St. (the old Tefft School).

The center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Visit the Greene County Family Justice Center website.

For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE(7233).

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald