Pets are an important part of many families, a fact which often translates into pets being used or abused as part of domestic abuse.
Jane Shirley, executive director of the SAFE (Shuswap Area Family Emergency) Society, describes what she’s witnessed.
“In my experience over the years, there’s been many times people have lost their pets – they’ve been harmed or killed (by an abuser) when people have come into the shelter. And obviously people are too scared to report it… They’re already fearful for their lives or to be harmed themselves, or their children to be harmed, so it doesn’t go reported. It isn’t until more recently that it has actually been exposed that there is a link (to domestic abuse).”
Shirley refers to research by the National Link Coalition in the U.S. Seventy-one per cent of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser had threatened, injured or killed family pets.
“From a global perspective, the research is very clear that there is a link between criminal activity and animal abuse. Animal abuse often exposes other criminal behaviours,” Shirley says. “From a community perspective, it’s a family member, so often, and a dog or a cat or a pet is part of the abuse cycle, it’s just like a child. And often it’s a way of controlling the other people. ‘I’m going to hurt the dog, I’m going to hurt the cat.’”
Adds Paige Hilland, director of programming and community development with the SAFE Society:
“Or sometimes it’s the reason that somebody might return to an abusive situation because they’re unable to find somewhere to go with their pet.”
To help alleviate the problem, the SAFE Society and the Shuswap branch of the SPCA are joining forces so women fleeing abuse will be able to focus on looking after themselves and their families.
“Our goal is to remove barriers for people leaving unsafe situations and that would be by partnering with the SPCA and other large and small animal facilities so that they can have a safe place for their pet to be,” says Shirley.
The Salmon Arm Women’s Shelter will also work towards having its own pet friendly area as soon as possible but, in the meantime, it will also earmark funds to help pay for pet care. Anyone affected by domestic abuse or violence is encouraged to call the women’s shelter, available 24 hours, at 250-832-9616. To donate to the SAFE Society, call or go to www.safesociety.ca.
Victoria Olynik, manager of the SPCA’s Shuswap branch, explains that the branch offers a free compassionate/emergency boarding service for dogs in need while their people find safer living accommodations.
Dogs are provided board for a maximum of two weeks. Although there’s no room for cats, referrals can be provided.
Olynik confirms the SPCA is very aware of domestic abuse.
“We do see it in this community and it’s unfortunate. When you see animal abuse, it often exposes other behaviour. There’s definitely a link between animal abuse and family violence.”
Anyone who would like to donate to the BC SPCA is asked to go to: www.spca.bc.ca or call 250-832-7376.