Almost half of domestic abuse professionals know of cases where a pet was killed

Almost half of professionals working with victims of domestic abuse say they know of cases where the family pet has been killed.

Having a dog can stop a domestic abuse victim fleeing
Having a dog can stop a domestic abuse victim fleeing

Nearly one in 10 said they had personally seen incidents where an animal had been abused, according to the statistics released by charity Dogs Trust.

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And some 97 per cent said pets are often used as a means of control by domestic abusers in a poll of 369 professionals who support victims, including social workers and police officers.

One woman who left her violent partner said she would not have done so had she not had access to the Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project, a dog fostering service for people who are escaping violent partners and do not want to leave their dog behind, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary in Yorkshire this week.

She said: “I found out about the Freedom Project when I was preparing to leave – I had asked family and friends but it was hard to find someone to look after Mia… and I didn’t want my son to lose his dog on top of losing everything else.”

Women’s Aid told her about the project and she was able to ensure Mia, whose name has been changed to protect her family, was safe.

She added: “If they’d not have told me about the Freedom Project I probably wouldn’t have left and I would still be in that situation. I’ve had Mia since she was a puppy and people don’t understand how it is when you’ve been apart for so long. I knew that she had been looked after and as soon as we were reunited she was so easy going and fell straight back into family life with us.”

The figures released by the Dog’s Trust also show that 95 per cent of professionals polled said that some victims will not leave their homes without knowing their pet is safe.

The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project, launched in 2004 and introduced in Yorkshire in 2005, means owners can stay in refuges without worrying about their pets.

Some 1,418 dogs and 1,083 people have been helped by the service, which runs across the whole of Scotland and in 29 counties across England, the charity said.

In the last year alone, the number of dogs fostered through the Freedom Project in Yorkshire has seen a 54 per cent increase from 24 between January and July 2018, compared to 37 in the same period this year.

Sarah Hill, chief executive of Yorkshire domestic abuse charity, IDAS, which works alongside Dogs Trust, said: “Everyone with pets considers them part of the family and to leave them behind, even to escape abuse, is incredibly difficult.

“The Dogs Trust Freedom Project provides a great service and when they know that their dog will be looked after, families can take that vital step to safety in a refuge and can start rebuilding their lives free from violence.”

Sarah Brown, Dogs Trust Freedom Project coordinator for Yorkshire said: “Alongside suffering physical abuse, we know that dogs are also often used by perpetrators as a means to coerce and control their partners. This is incredibly frightening for survivors and can range from perpetrators stopping their partner from accessing vet care for their dogs or spending money on dog food, through to repeatedly threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of their dogs. As many refuges are unable to accept pets, survivors are understandably concerned about their dog’s safety when they need to escape.

“We urgently need more foster carers in Yorkshire so that we can continue this life-saving work.”