Pets and Domestic Abuse

By: Kim Barrett

Most of us would probably describe our home as our sanctuary. After a long day of work or errands, coming home gives us an opportunity to destress, relax and recharge our batteries for the next day. While household activities can also keep us quite busy, overall home is a welcoming refuge. For some people, however, this is not the reality. Home is not a peaceful or safe space.

So many harrowing stories have appeared in the media about violence against women and sexual assaults. Unfortunately, Edmonton is no stranger to violence. The Edmonton police service reported 8715 events of domestic abuse in 2016. Most cases go unreported so this number is a gross underestimate of the current situation in our community.

Domestic abuse is defined as use of physical or sexual force, actual or threatened, in an intimate relationship. It may include a single act of violence or a number of acts forming a pattern of abuse through the use of assaultive and controlling behaviour. The pattern of abuse may be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, stalking, or threats to harm children, other family members, pets, and property. Holidays can be a stressful, hectic time for many families and many organizations see an increase in number of people accessing domestic abuse services around New Years.

A 2012 study in Alberta showed more than half of abused women who have animals reported that they delayed leaving because of their animal. An abuser seeks power and control by inflicting suffering on others. A pet may be used essentially as a hostage. Thirty-six percent of abused women with animals reported that their abuser threatened or harmed their animals. In cases that involved children as well as threatened animals, 85% of women reported that the children witnessed the threat or harm to the animal.

The Alberta SPCA Pet Safe Keeping program is designed to help people in domestic abuse situations. People who are experiencing domestic violence and who need to escape their situation can contact the program to have their pets cared for temporarily. Once accepted into the program the pet can also access veterinary care.

The Companion Animal Welfare Society (CAWS) is another organization committed to helping people keep their beloved animal companions during times of transition.

We can help access or navigate these resources in the community. If spaces are not available, We may be able to assist or connect with other local rescues to ensure that help is found.

In September,  Zoe’s aided a mother and children fleeing a domestic abuse situation. While the woman was seeking safety for herself and her children, Zoe’s temporarily took care of the family’s five cats. Once the family was settled in a safe space, they were able to bring their cats to their new home. Not only was the  family relieved to be able to keep their pets safe, they were grateful to have them back. Few things compare to the love and comfort from a pet during difficult times.

For more information on the Alberta Pet Safekeeping Program, contact the Alberta SPCA at 780-447-3600 ext. 3750, call 211 and inquire at any domestic violence agency in the greater Edmonton area.

To report domestic violence, call 911 (in an emergency) or the Edmonton Police Complaint line at 780-423-4567 (#377 from a mobile device in the Edmonton area).

To talk confidentially with a social worker, call the City of Edmonton Assessment and Short-Term Counselling at 780-496-4777

For information on resources in Edmonton and across the province, call the Family Violence Info Line toll-free at 310-1818. Help is available in 170 languages, 24/7.

Edmonton Police Services. Domestic Abuse 2017.…/Family…/DomesticViolence.aspx

Inside the Cruelty Connection: The Role of Animals in Decision-Making by Domestic Violence Victims in Rural Alberta. Dr. Donna Crawford and Dr. Veronika Clarke. 2012.…/publications/InsideTheCrueltyC…

The Holiday Spike in Domestic Abuse. Mattie Quinn. 2014.…/the-holiday-spike-in-…/383995/