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“She came into the shelter with her three children. Lots of physical abuse. She feels really guilty for having to grab her kids and leave the animals behind … it makes her feel even more guilty because not only have the kids lost their home, but they’ve lost the one thing that was comfortable to them and that was really important. It’s like they lost their home and they lost their friend, their pet.”
A new research study demonstrates how concern for the safety of animals serves as a barrier to individuals fleeing domestic violence in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan SPCA worked in partnership with Saskatchewan Towards Offering Partnership Solutions (STOPS) To Violence and the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) to complete the study.
Representatives from 39 animal welfare organizations and 56 human service agencies shared their experiences working with the victims of domestic violence where there were concerns about animal care and safekeeping.
Participants noted that abusers were able to exercise control over victims and children with threats to harm or kill animals. Victims were often afraid to leave, fearing that something would happen to the pets or livestock left behind.
The study revealed that there are only a limited number of options available to care for the animals of individuals fleeing domestic violence. Most women’s shelters do not allow pets. A small number of animal safekeeping programs are available to care for pets but these programs are typically short-term in nature.
Individuals living in rural areas are often dependent on livestock for their financial security and livelihood. Victims may stay in an abusive situation, feeling they have no other option.
Frances Wach, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan SPCA notes that it is important to help ensure the victims of domestic violence have better access to the resources they need to protect their pets and livestock.
“The Saskatchewan SPCA is seeking funding that will make it possible for us to move forward with the recommendations generated in this report,” says Wach.
Recommendations from “The Link: Interpersonal Violence and Abuse and Animal Safekeeping”:
Develop education and training workshops regarding the connection between interpersonal violence and abuse and animal abuse.
Establish partnerships between animal welfare agencies and human service organizations to better provide services.
Provide information about services available for both animal welfare and human service providers in urban and rural areas.
Train service providers in supporting individuals to plan for animal safekeeping when leaving situations of violence and abuse
Create a list of resources and services for animal care and safekeeping currently offered within Saskatchewan
resource book, central registry
For domestic violence services, ensure that the intake process involves asking whether or not animal abuse is occurring/has occurred within the home.
Formulate policies among animal welfare and human service organizations to ensure a clear understanding of what each sector is responsible for. Establishing clear guidelines will remove ambiguity that may arise when working in collaboration.
Generate specific and focused action plans for individuals leaving situations of interpersonal violence and abuse who are concerned about animal care and safekeeping, in both urban and rural regions of the province.