Wendy e-mailed One Family Welfare inquiring about programs and services available. She wanted to leave her abusive partner but did not know how and she wanted to ensure her older child did not know about the planning process, as it would be traumatizing. One Family Welfare staff provided information and advised that she could call whenever she was ready to leave.
One month later, Wendy called One Family Welfare and asked if we would still be able to help. She was immediately accepted into the Pet Safekeeping Program and arrangements were made to bring her pets into care.
An intake was scheduled for the following morning. Upon arrival to the apartment, the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator witnessed Wendy arguing with her teenage daughter, she apologized and explained that she had just informed her daughter that the family cats (Lilly and Billy) were going to be taken to our Pet Safekeeping Program for a few weeks.
During the intake, Wendy informed the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator that she had been in an abusive relationship for decades and that her partner, who was incarcerated, was but due to be released in a few days. Wendy mentioned that she has stayed with him through previous incarcerations, but that this time she could not stay. She could not let things go back to how they were before; she could not stay and live with daily abuse this time.
As part of her safety plan, Wendy planned to re-locate to a different city. She was informed that One Family Welfare would be able to bring her cats to any city when she was ready, as long as it was in Alberta. Wendy was reassured that she should not worry about Lilly and Billy but rather focus on keeping herself safe and rebuilding a new life.
Lilly and Billy stayed in the program for just over one month and once the client had found a new home, in a new city they were discharged back to Wendy and her daughter.
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.