06 December 2021
Safe Pets Safe Families founder Jennifer Howard
How Jennifer is helping save pets and get women’s lives back on track Marleston mum of three helping pets of people in crisis stay safe
Jennifer Howard knows all about the special connection owners develop with their pets. That’s why she created Safe Pets Safe Families – a charity that fosters the pets of people in crisis until they’re back on their feet.
“I personally experienced domestic violence and I had to make the choice to go to a shelter with my kids and I couldn’t take anything with me, and that includes your pets,” she explains.
“It just broke my heart, because my dogs were with me though every moment. If I was scared on the couch, my dogs would be there with me, and they were my kids’ first best friends as well. And back then there really wasn’t any service available to take them, except the pound.”
The mother of three knows first-hand the pains and difficulties involved in attempting to look after pets after leaving the household. For example, trying to ensure animals are fed each day: “And that’s risky, because what if your ex-partner rocks up while you’re there? You can only do that for so long.”
The service started eight years ago when she visited a women’s shelter and asked how she could help.
“I said, ‘Hi, this is what I’ve gone through, and if you’re experiencing this, I can take their pet for them.’ So I just offered a helping hand, and the more I told people what I was doing, the more people wanted to join in.”
Since then, Safe Pets Safe Families has offered help and support to hundreds of women escaping violent situations by ensuring their pets are looked after as they re-establish their own and their families’ lives. These days there are over 280 foster carers and 200 volunteers.
“It’s turned into something really big,” she smiles. “And our service obviously reduces surrender and euthanasia rates, but honestly it saves lives. People have told me, ‘If it wasn’t for my dog or my cat, I wouldn’t be here.’
Helping people and pets in crisis situations
Jennifer now runs multiple services under the Safe Pets Safe Families umbrella, from giving at-risk youth contact with animals to running a pet food bank and sponsored vaccinations for pet owners struggling to make ends meet.
“It’s not just domestic violence that affects people with pets,” she says. “It’s homelessness, it’s mental health, elderly people needing care, medical emergencies: there’s such a huge need out there for people who are going into a crisis and have pets. People don’t want to surrender their animals; they’re just going through a crisis, and pets don’t want to lose their owner either. So it makes so much more sense to support them and reduce that trauma.”
With other states looking to learn from her model, Jennifer’s hard work could yet start helping people all over the country.
“Sometimes I stand in the warehouse and think, ‘I can’t believe that I built all this from scratch,’” she says with pride.
I knew that I wanted to do something to help people, and I guess I found more than I bargained for!