Vicky lived in a prairie province with two young children and her beloved cat. The family lived in a very remote area, tactically chosen by the abuser. It is common for individuals in abusive relationships to be geographically isolated as this reduces the opportunity of the abused to seek escape from the abuser – it ensures that the abuser has full control over the victim(s). Isolation was just one of the many tactics her abusive partner used.
After enduring abuse for many years, Vicky made the courageous decision to leave her unhealthy relationship. She packed her car full of personal belongings, loaded up her children and her 12-year-old cat Moby. They all hit the road with Alberta as a destination. She found a temporary place to stay but it would not allow pets, once they arrived at their destination Moby would have nowhere to go.
Moby was adopted by Vicky when he was 9-years-old. Before Moby became a member of Vicky’s family, several owners had abandoned him. For this reason, Vicky was hesitant to place Moby in any temporary boarding situation because she had promised him, years ago, on his adoption day that she would provide him his last, true forever home. Without options, Vicky contacted the One Family Welfare department to discuss her situation.
After speaking with staff, Vicky selflessly decided that putting Moby in a One Family Welfare program would be the best for his wellbeing, and the least stressful option for him. Within a few hours, the Pet Safekeeping Program had secured a safe place for Moby. Staff met Vicky late at night off the highway when she was driving through Central Alberta and they transported Moby to his temporary accommodation.
Vicky promised Moby she would come back for him when things were stable and safe, and one month later she made good on that promise when Moby was reunited with his family.
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.