Utah pets now have a safe place to stay if their owners enter drug, alcohol misuse treatment

A nonprofit animal shelter has partnered with Utah’s largest addiction program to protect pets for up to three months as their owners undergo treatment.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Beth Henry, foster coordinator At Ruff Haven Crisis Center, with a dog named Ranger, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Bella was dubious as she poked her head out of the carrier.

The small black-and-white cat eyed her surroundings while a volunteer stroked her fur, easing her anxiety from the shrill barks of dogs in the back of the boarding facility.

Bella isn’t the feline’s real name; the pseudonym is intended to protect her owner, who is going through a difficult home situation. She is being housed by a foster with Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering, which offers free, short-term housing for pets while their owners are experiencing homelessness, escaping a domestic violence situation or other emergencies.

The nonprofit recently partnered with Odyssey House, Utah’s largest comprehensive addiction program, to provide three months of free pet boarding while their owners seek treatment.

“This is really person-based, like person-led,” said Beth Henry, Ruff Haven’s foster coordinator. Once pet owners have completed treatment and reached a place of safety, and stability, the animal goes back with them.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Beth Henry, foster coordinator at Ruff Haven Crisis Center, snuggles with a dog named Tito, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

The process starts with an application and documentation of the owner’s current situation, then a brief assessment of the pet — weighing and determining its general condition — along with vaccinations and ensuring the animal is fixed or planned to be fixed.

The pet is then matched with a foster, and the client checks in on their pet once a week via text. Ruff Haven has its fosters pass along photos and videos of the animal so the client can check in on their furry friend while separated.

Some clients also have visitations with their dogs, where the foster drops them off at the Dogs All Day facility and their owner can come to see them.

“It’s a good morale boost for them,” Henry said. “Sometimes we have animals that are kept here [at Dogs All Day] because their person likes to see them consistently. ... It’s not super common that they’re going to be visited by their person every day. Cats especially, because cats can get stressed out.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A cat sits atop a tower in the Cat Room, at the Ruff Haven Crisis Center, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Pets can be a reason why owners stay in bad situations, since they worry that their animals won’t be taken care of if they are not there, said Odyssey CEO Adam Cohen in a news release.

But the new program is already seeing success — and since Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering opened in June 2020, they have helped 320 families and about 500 animals.

“A lot of times [owners] worry that they’re gonna forget them during that period — the pets never forget their person” said Kristina Pulsipher, Ruff Haven’s executive director. “The reunions are why we do this. And we have many people who have been clients that volunteer with us now, or foster for us.”