Phoenix Domestic Violence Shelter Offers Safe Space for Survivors and Their Pets

By Alyssa Bickle

August 11, 2023

Many individuals and families at the risk of domestic violence choose to stay with an abusive partner out of fear for their pets. This Phoenix shelter provides a way out.

AR and her sons left a domestic violence shelter in Casa Grande a few months ago for Chicanos Por La Causa De Colores in Phoenix.

Here, the family’s two dogs, a Shepsky named Oso and a Chihuahua named Bella, have been able to take advantage of a pet park recently added to the facility.

Phoenix Domestic Violence Shelter Offers Safe Space for Survivors and Their Pets

Oso the Shepsky at the De Colores pet park (Photo by Alyssa Bickle)

Unfortunately, the family previously had to leave two of their other dogs, Oso’s sisters, at a shelter in Tucson, where the family lived before making the move to shelters.

Had they known De Colores—one of the only domestic violence shelters in the state that allows survivors to bring non-service animals into the shelter—existed, the family would have been able to keep all of their pets together.

“We’ve had a lot of survivors come to the shelter that would never have been here if they were not able to bring their pets, so this program definitely saves lives,” said Cindy Garcia, program director at De Colores.

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The Copper Courier is using initials for AR, and her son CR, to protect their identity from AR’s abusive ex-husband.

“Dogs are part of our family, and they’re pretty much everything to me,” CR said.

De Colores is a domestic abuse and sexual violence shelter in Phoenix, providing bilingual and culturally specific services for 37 years—still operating in the same home it was started in.

The program is a branch of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), an organization that provides various human services from housing to small business development.

Many domestic abuse victims choose to stay or go back to an unsafe situation because of their pet, so having a shelter that’s able to assist them with bringing their pets is life-changing, Jacqueline Avendano, AR’s case worker at De Colores, said.

Nearly 50% of domestic violence victims delay leaving an abuser due to fear for their pet’s safety, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

“Pets deserve to have a safe place to go to because a lot of abusive partners will harm the pet,” Garcia said.

Culturally Specific Services

CPLC opened De Colores because there were no organizations or agencies that specifically supported the Hispanic community, but it has evolved to open its doors to anyone who needs the help—offering over 80 beds and a 24-hour completely bilingual staff.

“We ensure that we provide the foods that they’re accustomed to and that we are aware of cultural norms that they may have,” said Garcia. “Everybody heals differently, everybody has different needs.”

The prompting moment that pushed Garcia to get the pet park started was a training sent to her about three years ago from the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Phoenix Domestic Violence Shelter Offers Safe Space for Survivors and Their Pets

A sign welcoming visitors to the De Colores pet park (Photo by Alyssa Bickle)

It highlighted the correlation between shelters allowing survivors to bring their pets and a survivor’s willingness to leave an abusive home.

Only 12% of domestic violence shelters in the United States accept pets, and 95% of survivors would think twice about leaving an abusive home if they could not bring their pet, according to data shared with Garcia.

Originally, De Colores only allowed survivors to bring service animals into the shelter. It made the change about a year and a half ago, Garcia said.

Usually between two to four pets stay at the shelter with unrestricted access to the recently added pet park, and they stay in the same room as their family.

“We definitely see that that is such a good way for them to heal together and keep the family together,” said Garcia.

A Safe Space for Pets

Before the addition of the pet park about a month ago, survivors with pets would have to take them outside of the shelter to relieve them and get exercise, with no grass and no shade, Avendano said.

This places them at risk to be seen by anybody, especially if they are hiding from their abusive ex-partner, Garcia said.

The pet park allows survivors to feel comfortable that their pet is not going to take off and run outside, Avendano said.

“A lot of victims have their pet because of emotional reasons, emotional support, or just having someone to take care of, someone to love,” Avendano said.

Learning that the pet park was available at De Colores was one of the final deciding factors for AR bringing her family to the shelter.

Oso especially loves the pet park and runs in circles around it all day, CR said.

The shelter ensures pets have more than just space—they provide everything the survivor might need for them, from toys to food, Garcia said.

De Colores is partnered with the Arizona Humane Society for support with immunizing pets and boarding them if they do not get along with other people or animals at De Colores, Garcia said.

CR said at De Colores, his family’s dogs don’t just stay inside all day, they get their necessities, and they have somewhere to play and run, meaning they’re happier now.

Funding for the Pet Park

Chicanos Por La Causa’s corporate office reached out to various businesses and firms in the Valley looking for donors, and came across Assured Engineering Concepts, a local business that provides professional engineering design services.

Mayani Jinel, shelter program manager, gave a tour of the De Colores shelter to the donors, explaining it was a dream of hers to have a space for pets—and they made it happen, she said.

De Colores is partnered with the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence among other various state and federal entities for funding, Garcia said.

What Services are Available?

As soon as someone arrives at De Colores, they are assigned a case manager and legal advocate to navigate orders of protection, immigration statuses, housing legalities, child custody, and other processes. If they have children, they are assigned a youth advocate.

Survivors have access to a cafeteria that provides three meals a day, and a community garden, where they can grow their own food, Avendano said.

The shelter also works with the CPLC Prestamos Women’s Business Center, helping women get back on their feet financially before they leave the shelter.

As a case manager, Avendano assists her clients with everything from job searching to providing transportation.

“They [De Colores staff] do a really good job with us. They’re very helpful, helping us with any concerns that we have or anything that we might need,” AR said.

AR is very close with Avendano, and feels that she can confide in her and depend on her.

“They’re a very close family,” Avendano said. “They [AR’s children] were all witnesses of the situation that their mother was going through, but they support her and they want her to succeed…they’re very united in trying to achieve everything together.”

De Colores also has a community-based program for survivors that do not need a shelter, but may need services like case management and finding permanent housing, Jinel said.

For services that De Colores is unable to provide, such as professional mental health support, they refer out to other programs within CPLC, like Centro Multicultural La Familia, Jinel said.

De Colores wants survivors to go through a healing process, including going to counseling and seeing a doctor to ensure they are physically well, Garcia said.

“We try to provide well-rounded services for the person as a whole, to be able to move forward and to be able to sustain a life on their own and feel independent and safe when they’re leaving the shelter,” Garcia said.

How to Make a Donation

While De Colores was able to bring the pet park idea to life, the shelter is still in need of everyday necessities for survivors. Staff are still working toward checking everything off their wishlist—like adding doggy doors to each room.

Many survivors bring only the clothes on their back to the shelter and rely upon donations.

Anyone interested in helping can make a donation online, or drop off items from the shelter’s wish list.

The shelter’s 24-hour hotline is 602-269-1515.

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  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is a multimedia reporter for The Copper Courier. She graduated from ASU's Walter Cronkite School in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press.

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