A veterinary partner contacted OFW after placing their client named Sandra, in a hotel room for two nights after completing a forensic exam on Sandra’s female dog, Betsy. The exam revealed a man had sexually assaulted Betsy.
Sandra witnessed her boyfriend commit the sexual assault against Betsy and was scared to return home. Sandra had no family in the area and needed support.
Within hours of speaking with the veterinary partner, OFW reached out to Sandra and learned more details about her situation. Sandra explained that she had never experienced this kind of abuse in a relationship before and was very unsure of what to do. Sandra wanted to go back to her home but did not feel Betsy would be safe there. Wanting to keep her and her family safe, Sandra reported the crime to the police but a restraining order was yet to be in place..
Safety planning was discussed with Sandra, and the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator explained the risks associated with returning to her home. Even with a restraining order, Sandra and her children could be at risk. The abuser’s behavior could escalate and the children could become targets. Ultimately, Sandra chose to return home with her family.
After two days, Sandra contacted the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator and confided that she was unable to sleep at night or allow Betsy to leave her side. As part of the safety plan she created, Sandra reached out to family in another province and booked a flight for her and her children to stay with family until there was more progress with the police investigation.
Betsy was brought into the Pet Safekeeping Program and was placed into a specially selected foster home, she was an older dog who had on-going health issues and the abuse she experienced was severe. As a result, the OFW team wanted to ensure she had appropriate placement so she could feel safe and have appropriate supports.
Betsy returned to her family after a few weeks.
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 or self-referral, 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.