When the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator drove to meet an admitted client, to complete the intake, the client and her cat Bruno greeted her. She was living outside of her apartment with Bruno and all her possessions. Everything she owned was on the small balcony.
One day prior, she called the Pet Safekeeping Program in a panic stating that her roommate had kicked her out of the apartment. Although she had left her abusive relationship a couple of months prior, she was in this situation directly due to family violence and the impacts of that relationship.
She had been with her ex-partner for over 25 years, and although the marriage was physically and emotionally abusive throughout, she soon realized other forms of abuse were also taking place. It was when she left and tried to rent an apartment, she realized the full extent of the abuse. Her partner was in charge of the finances and did not share any information with her. For the last 25 years her ex-partner was racking up debt in her name so she was unable to rent a quality apartment due to bad credit. She was told her credit rating was very poor due to non-payment of bills; bills that she never even knew were in her name.
Her safety was also still a concern. Her ex-partner knew where she was living and had shown up multiple times. Through all this, her main concern was the safety of Bruno; she did not want him staying outside with her overnight.
The only reason she remained hopeful and tried to find housing was her cat, Bruno. She would spend nights alone and scared, but knowing Bruno was safe helped her make it through the long nights. Bruno went home after she was able to secure an apartment. She is committed to working to improve her financial situation and recover from the decades of abuse she faced and the long-lasting impacts of living with Family Violence.
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.