Document Type


Publication Title

Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy


Family violence is a continuing social problem that breeds new complexity at every turn. Just as we seem to get a modicum of control over the sheltering of at-risk mothers and children (among other human victims), we find that family pets—dependent creatures endangered by the same violent behavior that threatens their human caretakers—often are left unprotected or under-protected by both law and society. In most cases, pets are unable to be sheltered with human victims of domestic violence due to shelter restrictions. Restrictions on the sheltering of abuse victims with their pets result in difficult choices for human victims who cohabit with pets. Those choices potentially affect the well-being of both the humans and their pets in leaving (and, in some cases, returning to) their violent households.

Animal safe haven programs have stepped up to serve some of this unmet need. These programs agree to take in the cats, dogs, and (in some cases) other pets of domestic violence victims who decide to seek refuge in a shelter. This solution is not without problems, however. Among other things, a victim may decide to return to the abusive household and take the animal with her, subjecting the animal, as well as herself, to renewed abuse.

This article addresses this identified weakness of safe haven programs—which we refer to as the safe haven conundrum—and suggests a solution rooted in traditional notions of property and contract law and consistent with related public policy. In the process of doing so, the article panoramically describes the overall societal and legal context in which the issue arises. This background is important to many social and legal issues involving nonhuman animals, not just the protection of animals threatened by violent households.

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Publication Date

Summer 2017

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Law Commons