Economic abuse – the complete control over a person’s financial situation which maintains their dependence on the abuser – is a common form of domestic abuse. The newly released Domestic Abuse Act guidance formally recognises that impacting someone’s ability to care for a pet by withholding funds (for example limiting access to pet food or vet care) constitutes economic abuse.
Leading charity Dogs Trust has welcomed the news. Dogs Trust runs the Freedom Project – a “specialist pet fostering service for survivors of domestic abuse” – and are well aware of the impact economic abuse has on its victims and their pets.
A domestic abuse survivor who accessed the Freedom Project, whose name is withheld, said, “My ex-partner would say there was no money left at the end of the month, which I believed at the time. I would go without food in order for the children to attend dance classes, as I didn’t want them to go without. I didn’t realise until afterwards that he actually had a number of bank accounts and was storing money elsewhere.”
They added, “I was always made to feel it was my fault that we had no money. My mum would pay for the dog food so that they didn’t go without. I fed them on an expensive brand and I was frightened to let him know how much the food was in case he got rid of the dogs or made me feed them poor quality food.”
When polled by Dogs Trust, almost 60 per cent of professionals who work in the domestic abuse sector were “aware of cases where pets, or an owner’s ability to care for a pet, had been impacted by financial abuse”.
Amy Hyde, Dogs Trust Outreach Projects Manager, said, “Every day we see the devastating impact that economic abuse has on the dogs that we foster, as well as the emotional distress that it causes their owners, so we are delighted that this type of behaviour involving pets has been included in the Domestic Abuse Act guidance. Often perpetrators will withhold funds for vital veterinary care or dog food, controlling every expenditure.”
She continued, “We know that alongside economic abuse, dogs are also used to coerce and control emotionally – 97 per cent of professionals working in the sector say this is the case. This can range from the physical abuse of the animal, through to repeatedly threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of the dog.
“We will continue to raise awareness of how dogs can also be used as tools in coercive control, physical and emotional abuse by perpetrators, to give voice to survivors and their pets.”
Pets can be a major factor in people not being able to escape domestic abuse, as many refuges are unable to accept pets and victims fear for the lives of their beloved companions if they’re left behind. Here are some resources to flee domestic violence with your pet.