Co-Sheltering Companion Animals in Emergency Women’s Shelters: From Model to Practice & Solutions

Room: St Laurent 8

Sarah May Lindsay, BES MA PhD Candidate (ABD) PhD Candidate, Teaching Assistant, Department of Sociology, McMaster University

Up to 62 per cent of battered women delay leaving their abuser or do not leave at all due to concern for their companion animal’s (or pet’s) safety. In Ontario, Canada nonhuman companion animals predominantly do not reside in-shelter with women and their children. This preliminary research reports on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 20 current shelter workers throughout the province, where I ask about companion animal policies and practices (if any) in-shelter. The data gathered thus far informs the Sociology of the Family and Critical Animal Studies subfields, as only one exception was found to an apparent unwritten yet routinely followed policy disallowing co-sheltering. This presentation draws on Bourdieusian field and capital theory, as well as social problem construction and Foucaultian notions of the management of life to help explain institutional framing of co-sheltering as a problematic shelter model despite frequent identification of species separation in sheltering as a barrier to safe, family emergency housing in Ontario, Canada.


  1. The non-admission of companion animal species ("pets") to (almost all) women's emergency/VAW shelters in Ontario is a significant barrier to safe housing and protection from abusers for both human and nonhuman actors.
  2. Companion animal species are increasingly recognized as family members; separation of individual members from the rest of their family in times of crisis is, at minimum, problematic.
  3. Nonhuman and human shelters exist in political and academic/literary “silos”; these institutions are mostly separate, divided (essentially) by species. To move beyond this barrier, intersectional/interspecies coalitions are essential for the proposed theory-to policy-to-praxis (practice) agenda. 

Sarah May Lindsay is a fourth year doctoral candidate in Sociology at McMaster University. Ms. Lindsay's research areas include human-nonhuman animal relations, human and nonhuman shelters, companion animals, nonhuman animal use and abuse (abolitionism) and speciesism. She works from the intersectional perspective of Critical Animal Studies, considering the social psychological intricacies of individuals and society. Ms. Lindsay's dissertation research surveys companion animal co-sheltering policies and practices at women's emergency shelters in Ontario.

Ms. Lindsay began her career with an Honours BES in Environmental Studies from York University, and an MA in Critical Sociology from Brock University, receiving numerous academic awards and scholarships including the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Master's Scholarship, three Ontario Graduate Scholarships, and, currently, the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. She has presented her research on policies and conditions in companion animal shelters at various sociological meetings, including the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Sociological Association Congress. Also, she is the co-editor of an upcoming special edition of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. This special issue puts into conversation the emerging sociological subfields of Critical Animal Studies and Critical Disability Studies. Upcoming publications include a book chapter on shelter fields and capital (power and currency) and a comparative analysis of fetishized, "inspirational" disabled companion animals. Additionally, Ms. Lindsay is a co-organizer and administrator for the newly formed CSA Research Cluster: Animals in Society.