Cinnamon was a cat who belonged to a woman we will call Tammy. Tammy was referred to the Pet Safekeeping Program by a social worker from Northern Alberta. Tammy lived several hours away from Edmonton in a rural location and was facing a dangerous situation.
Tammy was still on the property where she lived with her abuser and was in a desperate situation. She would not leave the home until Cinnamon had somewhere safe to go. She stated multiple times to her social worker that she was not going to leave her Cinnamon behind.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator immediately reached out to Tammy to arrange an intake to bring Cinnamon into care.
Tammy was very hesitant to have Cinnamon picked up. After discussing safety concerns of her staying on the property longer, Tammy then revealed that she had to go have an x-ray on her wrist, due to an assault by her ex-partner the previous day. She was concerned that if she went for the x-ray, her ex-partner would return to the property while she was away. Tammy was worried her ex-partner would take his anger out on Cinnamon knowing how much it hurt her to see Cinnamon hurt or scared. Tammy decided she would spend another night in the home and admit Cinnamon into the Pet Safekeeping Program the following morning.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator and Tammy come up with a safety plan and if things got worse, or Tammy felt unsafe, she would drive herself and Cinnamon to Edmonton. A 24/h drop off location was confirmed for Tammy and Cinnamon in case they had to leave in the middle of the night.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator was able to meet with Tammy the following morning and bring Cinnamon into care. Cinnamon was only in the program a short time before she could be reunited with Tammy, who found a friend to move in with who loved cats.
Tammy’s 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.