Bert the fish belonged to a little boy. When the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator responded to a family violence call and loaded up his family’s dogs, he stared at Bert swimming around in a fish bowl.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator could not ignore the fish and asked what the plan was for little Bert. The family did not realize that the Pet Safekeeping Program could also accommodate fish and the little boy sadly responded that Bert would have to stay behind. The family never thought to mention Bert during the intake process, and did not have a plan to keep him safe when they left their home.
“We will help any pet, from a goldfish to a large breed dog” is a statement that has been made by our Pet Safekeeping Program team for years. It rang especially true in the case of Bert.
Along with three dogs, Bert was admitted to the Pet Safekeeping Program while the family relocated to a safe shelter. Although vet check-ups are standard through the program, they are difficult to perform on fish. The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator took Bert to her home and watched over him for several weeks, keeping a close eye on Bert for any signs of ill health or stress.
After four weeks, Bert and his canine siblings were reunited with their owners.
This story is not unique.
A 2012 report by the Alberta SPCA found that 59% of domestic violence survivors reported they had delayed fleeing their abusive situation due to concern for their pets. In that same report, one in three victims reported their abuser either threatened or harmed their animals. In cases that involved children, 85% of victims reported their children witnessed the threats or harm to the animals.
The Alberta SPCA’s Pet Safekeeping Program was launched in 2014 to help find placement for pets while domestic violence victims entered into a safe shelter. Since its inception, the Pet Safekeeping Program has seen exponential growth, with the number of people and pets helped each year increasing by more than 400%. Clients are referred to the Program by a partner agency, and once accepted, the pets receive a full medical exam, vaccinations and other required treatments.
While there are different forms of abuse that occur in a broad range of relationships, a common occurrence in all of these abusive relationships is cruelty to animals at the hands of the abuser.
Refuge should be available to everyone. Anyone fleeing family violence with a pet should contact a local shelter or domestic violence agency to be referred to the Pet Safekeeping Program.