Kitty at MHS

A Monadnock Humane Society program has expanded to help pet owners with unstable housing or struggling with substance abuse.

SWANZEY — A Monadnock Humane Society program that initially focused on pet owners fleeing domestic violence has expanded to also help those with unstable housing or who are struggling with substance misuse.

After launching the Animal Safety Net program in 2017, the Swanzey nonprofit organization quickly discovered that leaving abusive partners or family members isn’t the most common reason people might need temporary care for their pets, according to Executive Director Kathy Collinsworth.

The most common circumstance is pet owners becoming homeless or finding themselves between homes, she said.

The second most common reason, according to Collinsworth, is owners needing to temporarily board their animals while they go to addiction treatment facilities.

The goal, she said, is to keep families and their pets together long-term, even through unstable housing or short stays at a domestic violence shelter.

“They get to the point where they have to choose between going to the shelter or surrendering their pet, so we can be the solution for them,” Collinsworth said.

Program participants receive free pet boarding for a few days to a few months, depending on their need, according to Collinsworth. When the crisis has passed — when a pet owner has left a shelter and found a new home or completed a treatment program, for example — staff give the animals back.

During the animals’ stay at the shelter or in a foster home affiliated with the humane society, they receive necessary medical care, such as spaying or neutering, vaccinations and more. Most of the animals that come through the safety net program lack regular veterinary attention, Collinsworth noted, and may need basic care, such as flea and tick treatment.

Last year, the program housed and cared for nine dogs, 21 cats and one rabbit, according to Collinsworth. All of these animals have been returned to their families, she said.

Referrals for the program come from the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention, Southwestern Community Services, Hundred Nights shelter and The Community Kitchen in Keene, and people who have heard about the Animal Safety Net also call the humane society to find out if they qualify.

Collinsworth said she wanted to create the safety net after hearing of a similar program being offered by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles.

Even as she was exploring whether to create a similar initiative in the Monadnock Region, she got a call from the MCVP Crisis and Prevention Center. A woman who was fleeing an abusive home had a cat who couldn’t come with her to the shelter, and staff there wanted to know if the society could board the animal for a fee. The cat ended up staying at the humane society for free while the woman got back on her feet.

According to Collinsworth, seed money for the program came from a $9,854 grant from 100+ Women Who Care Cheshire County, an organization that supports local charitable causes. The grant funding supports the cost of providing medical care for the animals, she said.

Without a program of this kind, Collinsworth said, owners must find family members or friends to care for their pets; otherwise, they may have to surrender the animals permanently or even abandon them. But pets, she noted, are part of the family, and owners who are already in a difficult situation generally don’t want to part with them permanently.

Evelyn Hastings didn’t want to give up her three cats — Bailey, Lacey and Cleo — when she needed to move from her home in Jaffrey.

“They mean everything to me,” she said of the felines, who are older and have been with her for years. “I love my cats.”

But when she and her fiancé broke up last year, Hastings had to move to Townsend, Mass., with an uncle who didn’t want cats in his house. Hastings considered surrendering them to the humane society, but dreaded the prospect of never seeing them again.

She looked into boarding her cats at a pet hotel or similar facility temporarily, but at $20 per day per cat, she said that option was out of reach.

She felt relief when she called the humane society and learned she wouldn’t have to part with her cats forever. Bailey, Lacey and Cleo stayed there for three months, and during that time, Hastings found an apartment in Massachusetts. She got her cats back in October and said she wants others in her situation to know they don’t have to abandon their pets.

“I want people to know that there’s an option,” she said. “You don’t have to put your animal on the side of the road; there’s people and places there to help.”

The Animal Safety Net is available at the Monadnock Humane Society. More information is available at 352-9011.

Liora Engel-Smith can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or lsmith@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @LEngelSmithKS.