Lollipop the cat and her owner, who we’ll call Stephanie, found themselves living in a turbulent home filled with broken furniture, death threats, and many strangulation attempts. In addition to the routine physical abuse Stephanie experienced, she was forbidden from having friends, employment, and even pets. When she found Lollipop wandering on their rural farm she made sure to hide her from her husband. For the next year, when Stephanie’s husband was at work, Lollipop would become Stephanie’s greatest source of comfort. When her husband was home Lollipop lived in a heated shed away from the main house. On the days when the physical and verbal abuse became too much, Stephanie says Lollipop kept her from suicide because she knew that Lollipop needed her.
Eventually her husband found out about Lollipop. After throwing Lollipop across the yard he began assaulting Stephanie, even attempting to strangle her. When she got away and contacted the RCMP from a neighbour’s house, Stephanie’s main concern was Lollipop. According to victim services, she refused to leave the home to enter a safe shelter until Lollipop had somewhere to go.
Stephanie was referred to the Pet Safekeeping Program and the program’s coordinator drove three hours to pick up Lollipop and bring her into the program. While in care, it was discovered Lollipop was pregnant with a litter of five kittens, and while Stephanie wanted to keep them, she knew she would not have the financial resources to care for six cats. The kittens were surrendered to the Pet Safekeeping program and rehomed to loving families.
Once Stephanie transitioned into her own home, she was reunited with Lollipop.
Stephanie’s story is not unique.
A 2012 report by the Alberta SPCA found that 59% of domestic violence survivors reported they had delayed fleeing their abusive situation due to concern for their pets. In that same report, one in three victims reported their abuser either threatened or harmed their animals. In cases that involved children, 85% of victims reported their children witnessed the threats or harm to the animals.
The Alberta SPCA’s Pet Safekeeping Program was launched in 2014 to help find placement for pets while domestic violence victims entered into a safe shelter. Since its inception, the Pet Safekeeping Program has seen exponential growth, with the number of people and pets helped each year increasing by more than 400%. Clients are referred to the Program by a partner agency, and once accepted, the pets receive a full medical exam, vaccinations and other required treatments.
While there are different forms of abuse that occur in a broad range of relationships, a common occurrence in all of these abusive relationships is cruelty to animals at the hands of the abuser.
Refuge should be available to everyone. Anyone fleeing family violence with a pet should contact a local shelter or domestic violence agency to be referred to the Pet Safekeeping Program.