For women experiencing domestic abuse, pets often used as cruel leverage

By Joli Scheidler-Benns

More than half of women delay leaving an abusive partner because of concerns for their pets, according to research from the University of Windsor.

Dr. Amy Fitzgerald, who released her research in 2017, also found a shocking 89 per cent of domestic violence cases that also involve some type of animal abuse.

Women’s Resources, serving the City of Kawartha Lakes, has been working hard to solve the barriers for women who need to leave an abuser. Since 1992, they have had 32,454 crisis calls and the Victoria’s Shelter Program has supported 2,537 women and 2,180 children. Now they are working with PAWs and Company to help solve the challenge facing women who need to leave an abusive situation, but have pets.

Executive Director, Lori Watson of Women’s Resources explains that “we try to do what we can to reduce the barriers to women seeking help and fleeing abuse.”

“It is true that often animals are abused as well. There is a high correlation between animal abuse and woman abuse. Many women are afraid to leave as they fear for the safety of their pets. We know of many cases where animals are tortured in front of women or children as a tactic the abuser uses,” says Watson.

Watson says over the years they have tried many options to secure safe places for pets but sometimes these pets were not well behaved.

Women’s Resources had previously set up a volunteer foster program to look at helping with the animals, but there were too many incidents of property damage and biting which made it a liability issue.

“Also when women leave, they often do not have a plan of where they will end up going beyond the shelter. Sometimes when they try to leave with their pets, they end up having to relocate or take housing where the pet cannot be accommodated,” explains the executive director.

In some cases, they know that women cannot always return to claim the pet.

“Then there is the financial reality that when women leave, they are often plunged into poverty or have to live on social income. They often don’t have the finances to look after their pets,” says Watson.

Deborah Dixon, owner of Pawz and Company, says they are “many months away” from being able to provide a temporary place for dogs, cats, and smaller pets (like hamsters or gerbils, etc.)

Dixon says that all the staff have a true passion and devotion at Pawz and Company when it comes to caring for animals, but “there are serious logistical hurdles to cross, among other things, before anything can be done.”

“In cases of animals in the home when women are in abusive situations, offering a haven to remove this barrier that could allow the woman to leave is a natural fit,” for us, says Dixon, who feels very strongly about giving back to the community.

According to a Canadian film, The War At Home, one in five women experience some form of abuse and every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. The economic costs for violence against women is very high. Each year it costs the Canadian criminal justice system $684 million, police services $187 million and counselling services about $294 million.



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