71% of women with pets seeking refuge in a shelter reported that their partner had threatened and/or physically hurt or killed one or more of their pets.
What happens when you have to choose between your safety and your pet?
Can you imagine having to leave your dog behind? Can you fathom what it would feel like to be in a position of choosing between your safety and your beloved dog?
Fleeing domestic abuse is no easy task, and in current times it is immeasurably more difficult due to a variety of factors. But one aspect which perhaps people are less aware of is the emotionally harrowing decision about what happens to your dog or cat?
There is a known link between domestic abuse and the abuse of pets. The perpetrator of abuse will often use the victim's love of their pet against them, as they know just how devastating the impact will be.
What would it feel like not to be able to protect your pet?
Pets are often the silent victims of domestic abuse, with perpetrators kicking them, shouting at them, and in some cases even killing them.
Dogs Trust estimates that approximately half of the dogs they foster on their Freedom Project have been abused or threatened with abuse.
Most of the dogs in foster will have witnessed some form of abuse in their home, which can have lasting impacts on their behaviour, confidence, and anxiety levels.
The various lockdowns and stay at home measures have left victims exposed to their abusers more than ever over the last year. There is no daily escape when the abuser leaves the house for work or social activities, and options for the victim of abuse to escape for some relief are limited.
ONS found that during the pandemic, there has been an increase in demand for domestic abuse services; however, referrals for Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) decreased between April to June in 2020.
A MARAC brings together various agencies such as police, social services, and Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors to assess risk and offer support to victims of domestic abuse. They unite to consider individual cases and the action needed to keep the people at risk of harm safe.
ONS suggests that perhaps the reason for the decline in case referrals to MARAC was due to high-risk victims finding it more challenging to safely contact the police during lockdown.
Barriers to fleeing domestic abuse
Among the many barriers to fleeing domestic abuse is the issue of having to leave your pet behind. The window of escape can be minuscule. When the opportunity arises, and a person finally gets the chance to find refuge, the idea of abandoning their pet can be one they just can't overcome.
A survey by the Endeavour Project asked pet owners living in refuges about their experience, "94% said if there had been a pet fostering service it would have made it easier for them and their children to escape the violence. Well over half had to give up their pets when going into the refuge as there was no other option."
Thankfully several charities now provide foster services specifically for victims of domestic abuse.
There is a list of these organisations below, including which areas and pets they cover and their websites. For most, you can either self-refer or ask your key worker or support worker to make contact on your behalf; full details at the bottom of this article.
Mary Wakeham of Refuge4Pets said, "Many hostels don't accept pets, and we want to get the message out that people don't have to choose between staying in an abusive relationship or being parted from their animal.
"Animals are often their only companion, providing them comfort, particularly for children in violent homes, and once they do leave, they play a huge part in helping owners cope with trauma and rebuild their lives."
If you are in the position where you had to leave your pet behind, you can ask a police escort to attend with you to return and pick up your pet safely.
How you can help
If you'd like to offer your support to individuals and families escaping domestic abuse, then there are a number of ways you can help.
With so many people keen to add a dog to their home during lockdown, you could consider applying to become a foster carer for a pet until their family settles in a new home. The peace of mind and relief you will provide for both the family and their pet is enormous. Knowing their cat or dog is in safe hands and being looked after is a huge weight off their mind with so much else to manage.
You can donate to any of the fabulous projects below to help them reach more individuals who desperately need their support.
You can purchase an item from Dogs Trust's Amazon Wishlist, which are all items that will help dogs settle into their temporary homes and recover from the trauma they've experienced.
You can share this article to help raise awareness with others who may like to offer support and with people who may need these services and be unaware they exist.
Organisations providing foster services for dogs and other pets belonging to people fleeing domestic abuse
Areas Covered: Greater London & the Home Counties, East Anglia, the north of England, and Scotland
Method of referral: Contact your regional Freedom Project team by phone or email. Full list here - https://www.moretodogstrust.org.uk/freedom-project-contact-us/contact-us
Cats Protection's Paws Protect
Areas Covered: London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey
Method of referral: Call 0345 260 128 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Areas Covered: Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire & Merseyside
Method of referral: Via your local domestic violence helpline or refuge
Areas covered: Devon and Cornwall
Method of referral: By phone on 0300 4000 121 between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday, by email to email@example.com via their website or through a support worker.
Pet Fostering Service Scotland
Areas covered: Throughout Scotland excluding Dumfries and Galloway
Method of referral: By phone on 0344 811 9909 between 9am and 7pm daily – must be supported by a healthcare or DV support worker.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and need advice or support, please contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234.
References: You can read the full ONS report on findings relating to domestic abuse during the pandemic here - https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabuseduringthecoronaviruscovid19pandemicenglandandwales/november2020