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This Utah animal shelter is a safe haven for owners going through drug or alcohol treatment

By Zoe Sottile, CNN

A new program in Utah will provide short-term housing for pets whose owners are going through treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

The program is a collaboration between Ruff Haven Crisis Center, a nonprofit providing short-term care for pets whose owners are experiencing crises, and Odyssey House, Utah’s largest addiction program.

The partnership launched three weeks ago, Kristina Pulsipher, executive director and co-founder of Ruff Haven, told CNN.

For the most part, the shelter specializes in short-term stays, which makes it hard to work with clients undergoing addiction treatment, who often need to stay for longer than the 60 or 90 days pets usually stay at Ruff Haven. Collaborating with Odyssey House has allowed them to “work past that.”

“Having the knowledge that their pets are safe while they’re working for themselves provides that additional feeling of support for them to focus on recovery,” Pulsipher said.

Ruff Haven plans to accommodate around 10-12 clients through the partnership with Odyssey, according to Pulsipher. The housing for addiction patients, like all the nonprofit’s services, is completely free of charge.

The shelter opened in June 2020, Pulsipher noted. Although they did not intend to launch during the pandemic, “We happened to open our doors at a very significant time, when the need was greater than ever,” Pulsipher said. “We saw that this need wasn’t being filled, and we thought maybe we can keep pets with their families, keep them out of shelters.”

Ruff Haven launched with a focus on crisis sheltering, often for clients who were hospitalized or experiencing domestic violence and other crises. Now the shelter mostly works with clients experiencing housing insecurity. And in addition to providing short-term housing for clients’ pets while they work to get back on their feet, they also provide community pet vaccination clinics and other veterinary care for the local unsheltered community.

The nonprofit provides crisis housing for pets, mainly dogs and cats, through both a brick-and-mortar boarding facility and a foster program. Pulsipher emphasized the importance of the team’s “temporary foster homes.”

“These are people who really, what draws them is that they love giving back to the community, and know these are people in very vulnerable positions who could be them,” she said.

Fosters “take an animal into their home for 60-90 days, sometimes longer,” she said. “They just provide them all the love and care that they give to their own pets. It gives the animals time to de-stress, and not be in a boarding situation.”

Clients get videos and pictures of their pets while they are in Ruff Haven’s care, so they can make sure their furry friends are well taken care of.

The shelter has served around 510 animals through their crisis sheltering program and more than 1,500 through other programming, like their free vaccination and microchip projects. Currently, they have 61 animals in their care in either the boarding facility or foster care program.

Pulsipher commended the lengths to which their clients will go to keep their pets out of shelters, even while they may be experiencing a crisis like hospitalization or homelessness.

“Our clients are animal welfare heroes,” said Pulsipher.

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