Get the latest CatCon news and more!

May 26, 2019

Breaking the Pattern

This year at CatCon we’re proud to feature the workshop, Breaking the Pattern: a special lecture on helping domestic violence victims and their pets escape abusive relationships.


1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and pets are often used as a way to assert power and control – yet approximately only 10% of domestic violence shelters allow pets. Sponsored by Purina’s Purple Leash Project, RedRover’s President Nicole Forsyth will talk about how to recognize important signs, what resources are available, and what you can do to help.


RedRover is an organization that helps animals rescued from disasters or neglect, domestic violence victims seeking safety with their pets, and animals with life-threatening illnesses. The mission of RedRover is to bring animals out of crisis and strengthen the bond between people and animals through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education.


We spoke with Ms. Forsyth (pictured above) at RedRover to learn more about their very important mission.


CatCon: RedRover does so much to help animals in need, from disaster relief to urgent care relief to providing educational resources. Can you tell us more about your mission, and how this initiative came to be for the organization?


Nicole Forsyth: RedRover has often been described as the American Red Cross for animals, which is fitting because with the help of over 4,000 volunteers throughout the United States and Canada, we provide emergency sheltering for animals displaced by natural disasters and other emergencies, as well as provide financial assistance and support for veterinary emergencies, criminal cruelty seizures and temporary boarding to ensure people and pets can stay together and animals have a second chance at a better life.


However, our mission goes deeper than just helping in a crisis; we also seek innovative ways to strengthen the bond between people and pets and prevent cruelty, abuse and neglect. We believe people and pets are better togetherthat the human-animal bond has the power to heal and that this power goes both ways. We also believe this bond has the power to help build more empathetic human-human relationships, making our society overall more connected and stronger.


Our work to help domestic violence survivors and pets is a perfect blend of these two initiatives. It began as a simple response to crisis, helping victims leave their abusers by offering grants for temporary boarding, so they wouldn’t have to leave their pets behind to be subjected to abuse or used as a weapon to get them to go back. As we learned 1) how extensive the problem of abuse is; 2) how much animal abuse co-occurs with human abuse, and 3) how pets are major barriers to people leaving their abusers because of how few domestic violence shelters allow pets, we gradually expanded our program. Now in addition to grants for emergency boarding, we do extensive education and outreach to domestic violence shelters and advocates to help them understand the role pets play in abuse, and we offer grants for the shelters to build on-site housing for pets and develop comprehensive programs with partner organizations to better support their clients and prevent their going back to their abusers. The impact of having pets part of the healing environment of a domestic violence shelter could not be more evident in the data we collect. Having pets on-site helps everyone in the family heal and even improves the supportive culture of the shelter. We are now exploring bringing the RedRover Readers program to the children in shelter, to further prevent the cycle of abuse.


What is the Safe Escape program, and who is eligible?


Safe Escape is the name of our grant program that provides off-site temporary boarding for up to 90 days when people can not bring their pets with them to a domestic violence shelter. We work directly with domestic violence advocates at a shelter to ensure the person receiving assistance with pet boarding is also receiving professional help with their escape and recovery plan. Anyone in the United States seeking assistance with leaving an intimate partner abuser is eligible to receive the support. We provide the funding and guidance directly to the boarding facility to ensure confidentiality and safety during this transition. 


Your Safe Housing Grants allow victims of domestic violence to find a safe living situation where they can bring their pets. What organizations do you work with to make that possible?


We work with a variety of domestic violence shelters, as well as state, regional and national coalitions and associations and animal shelters to advocate for ensuring there are robust on-site and off-site options to house the pets of domestic violence survivors. In addition, we are fortunate to receive financial support for a number of private foundations, donors and corporations. We have recently teamed up with Purina and launched the Purple Leash Project that will ensure every state has at least one domestic violence shelter that shelters pets by 2020. The Purple Leash Project is also spreading awareness about this topic and empowering people to help. Purina has committed over $500,000 over the next four years to help make this happen. 


If someone has a pet or a loved one with a pet who is in need of help, where can they go to find resources?


Our website provides a searchable database of on-site and off-site programs throughout the United States and Canada as well as other resources that can help people create an escape plan that includes their pets. We are currently working with a research group at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada to update the data.


Your #SpreadKindNews campaign is a wonderful idea. What are some of your favorite positive stories so far?


Thank you! We are very excited to find “The 2020 Humane Hero of the Year” while also spreading positive stories of kids being kind and increasing subscriptions to our Kind News magazine through our #SpreadKindNews Campaign. There have been so many great stories so far, and I think my favorites are the ones that show how easy it is for kids to help. Kids like Fin who organized a donated drive for rescued animals and Connor who fosters animals from shelters and helps find them new forever homes. Seeing kids taking action like this makes me believe the future has great potential! Both the winner and the one who nominates receive some great prizes, and the deadline to enter the contest is May 23rd. More information is available at


What are you most looking forward to at CatCon this year?


I can’t wait to be surrounded by fellow cat lovers and all things cats! I am also eager to spread awareness about the Purple Leash Project and talk to people and share a special experience at our booth.


How can people get involved or volunteer with RedRover?


Following us on social media* and sharing posts is a simple way to help. We quickly gather resources during a natural disaster about where people can shelter and get help with their pets, and we depend on our supporters to help share this list during a disaster. 


Becoming a monthly donor at is an easy way to provide much-needed ongoing support, and we have many volunteer opportunities described on our website at – everything from training to become a RedRover Responders volunteer to sharing information about domestic violence and pets to beauticians, the people who are most likely to be told about intimate partner violence!


*You can follow @RedRoverOrg on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter


Breaking the Pattern will take place Saturday, June 29th at 10:30 am in the KindredBio Education Pavilion at CatCon. By participating in the workshop you will:

  • know the 8 warning signs that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship
  • understand the psychological effects of abusive relationships on both people and pets
  • learn strategies to help animals and people recover from abusive relationships
  • learn resources available to people who are afraid to leave because they have nowhere to bring their pets
  • learn ways you can increase awareness of this topic, share the resources available and empower people to seek help
  • feel inspired by positive stories of lives transformed through RedRover programs