Rancho Coastal Humane Society’s Animal Safehouse Program puts a stop to violence—one pet at a time

By Christina Orlovsky Page

Any animal lover can attest that pets are more than just furry, feathered or finned companions. They’re truly part of the family—and family never gets left behind. But what happens when a home is disrupted by domestic violence and the victim needs to flee? Often, the family pet becomes a barrier keeping a victim in place. That’s where Rancho Coastal Humane Society’s Animal Safehouse Program (ASP) comes in, providing a safe haven for pets when their owners need to seek shelter of their own. Only the third of its kind in the nation at the time, the ASP was created in 1997 in answer to a call from local domestic violence shelters seeking an additional resource for their residents. Over the past 20 years, it has provided a safe place for hundreds of pets—and priceless peace of mind for their owners.

“Our mission is to remove one of the many barriers that keep domestic violence survivors in dangerous situations,” says Carly Doyle, ASP Coordinator. “People stay because they don’t know what might happen to their pet if they flee. We are here to provide a service that says, you let us take care of your pets so you can take care of yourself.”

With an ultimate goal of reuniting pets and their people, the ASP provides temporary shelter and TLC for pets—either within the shelter itself or in foster homes—until a safe living situation is established. The program actively collaborates with domestic violence shelters and a wide variety of social services organizations in a joint effort to eradicate violence and break the cycle of abuse and violence in our community.

In fact, the program has since evolved from strictly serving domestic violence victims to aiding veterans receiving services from the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder. Also in its early stages is a school-based violence intervention program aimed at breaking the cycle of interpersonal violence by teaching empathy and compassion through interaction with animals. Launched by Doyle’s predecessor, whom Doyle credits for building ASP to what it is today, the program works with a range of ages—from preschoolers to teens—to help them understand their own ability to love and care for a living creature. Doyle, who brings a background of early childhood development to her new role, is excited to see the program reach its full potential.

“The possibilities with the violence intervention program are endless,” she says. “The earlier you intervene and start to teach compassion and provide kids the opportunity to learn empathy, the less likely they are to continue the cycle of violence. Children are amazing—there are no limits to what you can teach them and what they can teach you.”

For more information, visit rchumanesociety.org/programs/animal-safehouse-programs.

Shutterstock/Bachkova Natalia
Shutterstock/Bachkova Natalia
Shutterstock/my agency
Shutterstock/my agency

If you or a loved one needs refuge from domestic violence, contact any of the following local organizations immediately:

Women’s Resource Center (24-hour hotline): 760.757.3500

YWCA Becky’s House (24-hour hotline): 619.234.3164

Center for Community Solutions: 888.385.4657

South Bay Community Services (24-hour hotline): 800.640.2933

Community Resource Center (24-hour hotline): 877.633.1112

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.7233


Animal Safehouse Program: 760.753.6476