She refused to leave her home without Max, Bailey, and Ginger. Max and Bailey were elderly, large breed dogs who were very much bonded, while Ginger was a feisty cat. RCMP and Victim Services tried to remove Jennifer (not her real name) from her property due to family violence but she would not budge, not without her pets. Jennifer was fearful that if she left without them her abusive partner would target them.
Jennifer did not want to be away from any of her pets, they were her only source of comfort through the abuse she endured and she had a very strong bond with all of them. Max and Bailey were brought into care first. Jennifer hoped to be able to keep Ginger with her as she looked for new housing but was not able to. Ginger came into care the following day when Jennifer had to re-locate to Southern Alberta for safety.
Jennifer faced many challenges in her journey to rebuild her life; away from abuse. She suffered from an unexpected illness and had difficulty finding a property owner that would accept two large breed dogs and a cat. At one point Jennifer told the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator, she should have “just stayed where she was, things were bad but at least she would have “her babies” with her”.
Even though the animals were all doing very well in care, it was extremely difficult for Jennifer to be away from them. Working with other agencies and with referrals, Jennifer eventually received the news she had so desperately hoped for – she was accepted to rent a home that would accommodate all of her needs, and her pets.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator re-located Max, Bailey and Ginger to a partner agency in Southern Alberta so they would be nearby and able to go home as soon as Jennifer had access to her new home, which happened just a few days later.
Jennifer’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.