Stephanie fled an abusive partner from Rural Alberta and came to the Edmonton area to stay in shelter with her two small children and their two 10 month old kittens, Ruby and Chester. Additional stress from the COVID-19 pandemic made life with her abuser unbearable and she feared greatly for her safety. Stephanie knew that if she didn’t get the kittens out of the home that they would be the next target of the abuse. She quickly packed up her kids and kittens and seized the first chance she got to leave, driving for hours until she felt she was far enough away that her abuser wouldn’t find her and started to look for shelter. Once she and her children were safe they found safety for the kittens with the One Family Welfare program.
Stephanie was only in shelter for a couple of weeks when she realized the trauma she had endured was impacting her life significantly. Stephanie was suffering debilitating PTSD from what her abuser put her through and struggled with daily tasks. She knew her children were also deeply impacted by the abuse they all suffered and decided that they needed substantial help to be able to overcome the trauma they lived through. Stephanie was admitted into a mental health treatment program and made arrangements for her kids to attend therapy while they stayed with a family member. Stephanie knew being away from her children would be very difficult, but she also knew that getting proper mental health treatment and support would be the best for everyone in the long run. Early intervention to overcome the trauma they experienced would be their best chance at long-term success. Stephanie was confident the children would be safe with her family, and she knew the kittens were safe with us, so she could focus on her own wellbeing and take steps to heal and overcome the trauma she lived through.
Ruby and Chester stayed in the One Family Welfare program for two months until the whole family was able to be re-united. While they had grown quite a bit while with us, they were two very happy young cats to see their family and to play with their kids again.
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.