Saving Both Human and Animal Lives

Saving Both Human and Animal Lives
Pam Hart and Megan Senatori

Madison Magazine: Could you explain how the SAAV program works?

Megan Senatori and Pam Hart: The Sheltering Animals of Domestic Abuse (SAAV) Program is provided by SAAV through collaboration between SAAV, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) and the Dane County Humane Society (DCHS). Through a confidential network of foster homes, we provide safe harbor for the animals of domestic abuse victims who are seeking refuge from an abuser.  The maximum shelter period is ninety days. The SAAV Program serves victims of domestic abuse in Dane County who are staying in shelters or receiving other services from DAIS at the time of intake into the SAAV Program.


MM: Describe your involvement with SAAV.

MS & PH: While law students at the University of Wisconsin, we learned about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, as well as the tremendous barriers to safety faced by victims with pets. It was something that neither of us had ever considered before: where do victims take their pets if they want to leave an abuser? Discovering that there was no established safety net in Dane County at that time, we set to work to create one and, in 2001, we co-founded SAAV.


MM: What has been the most beneficial element of this program?

MS & PH: The most beneficial element of the SAAV Program is that we reduce a significant barrier to safety, as research shows that up to forty-eight percent of victims delay leaving an abusive relationship because they fear for the safety of their animals and have no safe place to take them. Countless victims never leave out of fear for the safety of their animals. By providing safe harbor to the animals of domestic abuse victims, we are saving lives (both human and animal) by ensuring that no victim in Dane County has to make the horrible “choice” between her own safety and the safety of the animal members of her family. We ensure that animals have a safe spot to land, too, and our goal is to reunite the victim with her animal in a safe environment at the end of the shelter period.


MM: How has this program enhanced the Madison community?

MS & PH: Since 2003, we have provided safe shelter through the SAAV Program for approximately 177 animals affected by domestic abuse. Each animal that comes into the SAAV Program has a unique story and, while in our care, awaits the return of their guardian, a domestic abuse survivor who loves them beyond measure and is doing everything she can to achieve safety. We are proud to have served the Madison community for more than a decade through our shelter network and by raising community awareness about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.


MM: What is the most rewarding part of this experience for you?

MS & PH: No question—the reunions between survivors and their animals! The gratitude and pure joy that survivors express to us when they are reunited with their animals is why we do this work. And the animals are absolutely ecstatic to be with their human again.


MM: Did being in Madison make this program more possible than attempting to participate in another city?

MS & PH: Madison is such a welcoming and educated community with so many people who are willing to devote their valuable time and resources to fostering animals affected by domestic abuse. It is no small task to open your home to a foster animal for three months, particularly since so many of our foster parents already have animals in their family. We could not do our work without our amazing volunteers, many of whom are Madisonians. And, of course, this program would not be possible without the dedication and support of our key collaborators—DAIS and DCHS.


MM: What do you want others to know about the SAAV program?

MS & PH: Please visit us online ( to learn more about the services we provide!