Cases of domestic violence across the UK increased during the Covid-19 lockdown. Fleeing an abusive situation can be difficult – let alone in the midst of a pandemic. As hardly any refuge for domestic abuse victims will take in pets, victims face one more hurdle: the choice between saving themselves and leaving their beloved pets with a violent, vengeful person who will not hesitate to harm them as retaliation. But there are people out there ready to help.
Sometime in 2018 we received a phone call at the Dogs Today office from an unknown number, which is not unusual. What was out of the ordinary was taking the call to hear a woman crying. She spoke in a hurry, and along with the weeping it was hard to grasp the words; she talked of someone who had broken all her things and threatened her.
I thought she had called the wrong number – certainly, she needed to speak to the police – when, suddenly, she added, “I can’t leave my dog here. Please, she needs a place to stay. I must leave, but if she stays he’ll kill her. She’s so good. She can be rehomed.”
I had written a feature about the ways an abuser can use their victim’s bond to their pet in order to keep them under control. Victims of domestic violence have every reason to fear their violent partner may resort to harming or killing their pets in order to hurt them if they dare escape: the link between animal cruelty and violence against people is widely recognised.
A report released in August 2017 by the Centre for Crime Prevention has revealed that, since 2005, 13,835 offences were committed by people with a previous conviction or caution for animal cruelty offences in the UK. This included 1,437 violent offences including 16 murders, 202 sexual offences, 97 cases of cruelty or neglect against children, and 175 robberies.
The woman on the other side of the line was in a such situation: she had someplace to go, but her dog could not follow. She was certain that if she left her behind, her abusive partner would harm her to get back to her. They both needed out, but finding an accommodation for the dog was proving impossible. Hardly any refuge for victims of domestic violence accepts pets.
I was aware of a couple of options, including Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project, to find a foster accommodation for her dog. I gave her all the information I could about the schemes I was aware of at the time. She said she’d get in touch with them immediately before hanging up.
I never got to know if she was able to get herself and her dog to safety; it has kept me awake a few nights. I hope they’re both safe, and together.
The phone call was still on my mind a year later as I interviewed Ana Cossart Hall, of Foster First – a charity that often helps victims of domestic violence by finding foster accommodations for their pets.
She said, “There are some heartbreaking cases among the people who turn to us. Some stay in the relationship, putting themselves at risk because they can’t find a foster home – or get into crippling debt by using emergency boarding.
“Some are at their wits’ end when they turn to us, saying we’re their last resort and that they’ll put their pet to sleep rather than leaving it behind. I can’t imagine how desperate you must be to resort to having your dog put to sleep, but it makes sense in their situation. A painless death is better than what a violent partner may have in store for them. One of the dogs we found a fosterer for had a knife wound on his side.”
With the increase in cases of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dogs Trust has announced an expansion of its Freedom Project scheme, now launching in East Anglia.
“The Freedom Project has continued to operate throughout the pandemic to support people and their dogs,” Dogs Trust said in a statement.
“Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline logged 63% more incoming calls and contacts since lockdown began, showing that Dogs Trust’s service and those offered by other specialist organisations the charity works with, both locally and nationally, have never been more important.”
If you are in an abusive relationship and need to flee with your pet, there are several schemes and projects in place to help you both
Established by campaigning group Cariad to help dogs victim of puppy farming experience life in a home through a fostering scheme – which also allows people thinking of getting a dog the chance to try caring for one short term and see whether they are prepared for the lifelong responsibility – Foster First soon began finding foster homes for pets of domestic violence victims across the UK.
Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project
Dogs Trust runs the Freedom Project to provide temporary foster care for dogs whose owner have to flee domestic violence. The Freedom Project covers Greater London and the Home Counties, Yorkshire, the North East and North West of England, East Anglia, and Mainland Scotland.
The Mayhew’s Pet Refuge
London-based charity Mayhew runs Pet Refuge programme as part of their Community Support, providing shelter and care for the pets of people in crisis for short periods of time, with the aim of keeping people and their pets together long term.
020 8962 8000
Formerly Paws for Kids, the Endeavour Project aims to end domestic abuse for people and their pets. They offer help, advice, support and fostering services to people fleeing from domestic violence with their pets.
01204 394 842
Refuge4Pets provide a pet fostering service in Devon and Cornwall so that victims of domestic violence and abuse can escape to access support before being reunited with their pets.
Pet Fostering Service Scotland
Pet Fostering Service Scotland provides a short term emergency care service for pet owners who, due to ill health, temporary homelessness or domestic abuse, cannot care for their pets at the moment.
0344 811 9909
For cats: Paws Protect
Paws Protect is a cat fostering service for families fleeing domestic abuse. Through a network of cat fosterers, the service provides a retreat for pets of those going into a refuge until the owner has a safe place to live and they can be reunited.
0345 260 1280