PetSafe at Purdue University

09/08/2008

Domestic violence, child abuse, and animal cruelty are increasingly being recognized as different manifestations of a common societal problem. It is rare when one type of violence occurs in a family without at least one of the other forms also present.  In Lafayette, Indiana, The Women's Crisis Center provides shelter for women from a 5-county area who must immediately leave their homes because of domestic violence. The shelter cannot accept companion animals, and often women are conflicted about leaving their home, or even remain in an unsafe situation because they are worried about their pets; sometimes women risk personal injury because of their need to return home to care for and feed their animals.

To meet this community need, the faculty and staff of the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine operate PetSafe; a program that provides veterinary care and housing for animals owned by families in crisis. The program has been continuously operational since being established in 1995. The program provides food, shelter, and veterinary care to the pets. Animal health problems are treated if identified, and vaccinations are administered when necessary. Animals are accepted from all types of families in crisis. Examples would include loss of housing due to fire, flood, or tornado; sudden catastrophic illness; and incarceration. The majority of PetSafe users, however, are women entering the local domestic violence shelter. Although the program has mainly helped dogs and cats, it accepts all species. Rabbits, hamsters, sugar gliders, ferrets, birds, and even a spider have been kept at the veterinary school until their owners were able to reclaim them. On average, 15 animals have been helped per year. All have come from Tippecanoe County, where Purdue University is located. 

In addition to providing a valuable community service, the program allows students to learn about the role of animals in a diverse spectrum of households and exposes them to many topical issues in veterinary medicine. Originally a volunteer organization, PetSafe was recently moved into courses as one of several experiential, service-learning options. Service learning is a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal value and civic responsibility.

Students witness first-hand the importance of the human-animal bond to people experiencing crisis. The PetSafe program is designed to provide an opportunity for Purdue students to become involved in their community in a meaningful way that relates to the rest of their curriculum.  This was done so that students could be educated on the importance of civic responsibility and the role of the veterinary team regarding important societal issues. 

PetSafe is a model and pioneer in the Safe Havens field. Since its inception, several veterinary schools, humane societies, veterinary hospitals, and private organizations have formed similar programs.  Dr. Janice Sojka is the supervisor and contact person for PetSafe. She can be reached at sojkaje@purdue.edu if anyone would like additional information.

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