Pets are something we don’t think about all that often when we think about domestic violence. But research shows that women are less likely to flee dangerous or abusive situations in the home when there’s an animal involved. If a woman has to leave that family member behind, she’s much more reluctant to find safety at a shelter.
“For many victims, pets are a part of the family, and...the emotional connection and support that pets provide women in times of fear and isolation is not something to be overlooked,” notes the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies on its website.
“The safety of a pet must be taken into consideration when victims are faced with the decision to leave an abusive situation. If pets are not taken into consideration, women and children are placed at higher risk because they may delay leaving their abusive partner to ensure their pets’ safety,” the website continues.
That’s where foster programs come in.
In Ontario, the program is called SafePet, and it links volunteer foster parents across the province with pets that belong to women fleeing abusive situations. When women leave a shelter, which can't take in pets because of space and staff allergies, they’re reunited with their companion so they can move forward and have a better life together.
The program came out of an Ontario SPCA study back in 1998 that found 48 per cent of women surveyed, who'd left an abusive partner, said pets delayed their decision to leave and seek safety.
If you’re interested in volunteering as a foster parent, contact your local Violence Against Women shelter.