This September, Dogs Trust marked the first anniversary of running its domestic abuse support service in Kent. We’ve been working closely with the animal charity to gather data on abuse of pets by perpetrators and in supporting their Freedom Project.
We often think that it’s only women and children that can be affected by domestic abuse, but all to often it extends to more than just people. Pets can become a prime means to coerce and control, using the emotional ties the victims feels towards their dog to ensure they don’t leave.
Almost nine in 10 professionals working in the domestic abuse sector in the Kent area have seen cases where a pet has also been abused1, according to shocking new statistics released by Dogs Trust. The figures have been released ahead of the 15th anniversary of the charity’s Freedom Project and first anniversary of the service in Kent, supporting people fleeing domestic abuse by providing temporary accommodation for their dogs.
Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, have been operating the service in Kent since Autumn 2018. New figures reveal that over 6 in 10 (63%)2 of dogs owned by survivors of domestic abuse who accessed Dogs Trust Freedom project in the Kent area, have also been subjected to abuse.
The charity polled professionals who work with survivors of domestic abuse in London and the Home Counties, to better understand the scale of abuse against pets within abusive relationships in this area. Worryingly, the findings showed that almost half (47%) of professionals working in the sector are aware of domestic abuse cases where the pet has been killed. In addition to the physical abuse that pets may suffer, 98% of professionals said they are also often used as a means of controlling someone experiencing domestic abuse.
More than nine in 10 professionals (93%) also said that some survivors will not leave their home without knowing their pet would be safe.
In 2004 Dogs Trust launched its Freedom Project, offering vital support for dog owners who are escaping from domestic abuse in Kent. The Freedom Project provides foster homes for dogs which enables survivors to access safe accommodation without the fear of what may happen to their dog if left behind. Dogs Trust offers this service as many refuges are unable to accept dogs, so this important service gives pet owners the opportunity to escape abuse, safe in the knowledge that their dogs will also be safe and well cared for.
The service currently operates across the whole of Kent, alongside 28 other counties across England. In the last year alone, due to recent expansions by the charity, the number of dogs being fostered through its Freedom project in Greater London and the Home Counties has more than doubled, from 24 between January and July 2018, compared to 48 in the same period in 20193.
Dogs Trust has now expanded its Freedom project into Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and the North West4 and since launching has helped 1,418 dogs and 1,083 people.
Louise Gostling, Dogs Trust Freedom Project Coordinator for Kent 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.
“Over the last year alone the demand on our services in Kent has more than doubled which is why we have recently expanded our Freedom Project nationally to support even more survivors and their pets from abuse. We urgently need more foster carers in Kent so that we can continue this life-saving work.”
Sally5 from Greater London and the Home Counties who has been supported by the Freedom project said:
“I was married for several years until I was able to leave; I would have left him the day after we got married if I had known about the Freedom Project. When I found out about the Project, I finally felt like there was a way out as I was so scared of leaving my dog Maggie5 with him to continue being abused. It was so difficult to leave but once I did, I knew I had to get Maggie to safety too.”
Deborah Cartwright, CEO of Oasis, who work alongside Dogs Trust in Kent, said:
“The link between animal abuse and domestic abuse is well established; perpetrators may threaten to harm or kill a beloved pet in order to gain power and control over their partner. Many pet owners stay in an abusive relationship due to fear of what might happen to their pet if they flee without it.
“We are pleased to be able to work closely with the Dogs Trust Freedom Project to ensure pets will be safe and looked after as this is a high priority for many women experiencing abuse”