Domestic Abuse and Pets – how animals are used and abused

  • April 21, 2021
Domestic Abuse doesn’t just affect people. All too often pets become part of the abusive tactics used by perpetrators, as a prime means to coerce and control. The emotional ties a victim feels towards their dog or cat is used to ensure that they don’t leave. Pets can also be subjected to violence and abuse directly, becoming victims themselves.

In Kent and Medway, we work with DogsTrust Freedom project and the Cats Protection Paws Protect programme to care for victims’ pets as part of their safety plan, enabling them to flee their abusive environment. These programmes offer vital fostering services, whilst victims are in refuge, to safeguard and protect their animals until they can be reunited with their owners.

Black and white dog laying down with sad expression

Knowing that their pets will be looked after in safe accommodation removes a barrier for victims, helping to enable them to leave their abusive environment.

A survey carried out by Dogs Trust in 2019 showed that:

  • Almost 9 in 10 professionals working in the domestic abuse sector have seen cases where a pet has also been abused.
  • Almost 50% of domestic abuse professionals were aware of domestic abuse cases where the pet had been killed.
  • In addition to the physical abuse that pets may suffer, 97% of professionals said they are also often used as a means of controlling someone experiencing domestic abuse.
  • 95% of professionals said that survivors will not leave their home without knowing their pet would be safe.

There are many ways that pets can be used in the cycle of power and control:

  • By stopping access to vet care or the ability to spend money on pet food
  • Threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of the pet(s)
  • Refusing to allow the pet to go outdoors, or leaving doors open to increase a pet’s danger
  • Preventing vital care such as regular feeding or the pet being able to go to the toilet
  • Creating anxiety that the victim will be accused of pet abuse themselves, reported to the RSPCA and that the pet will be taken away

I had been in an abusive relationship for 3 years. I eventually managed to flee and went into a refuge with my son, but they were unable to take pets which led me to discover the Freedom Project.

They were fantastic and within 24 hours they had found Dusty a foster home. The staff on the Freedom Project showed such compassion and understanding and reassured me daily. The service is outstanding and it’s because of the Freedom Project that us three amigos – myself, my son, and Dusty – are still together.

Losing Dusty would have destroyed me – he’s the one who I broke down to and the one who laid beside me every time I cried. He was my comfort blanket and thanks to the Freedom Project and the volunteer foster carer, he still is.

Gemma, survivor

Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, set up the Freedom Project 16 years ago. The service currently operates across the whole of Kent and Medway alongside 28 other counties across England.

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. In the last year alone the demand for our services has increased, compounded by the impact of the pandemic.

Louise, Dogs Trust

The DogsTrust Freedom Project works closely with refuges, police forces, local authorities and other animal charities to help people and their pets experiencing domestic abuse get to safety.

CEO of Oasis Domestic Abuse service, a charity that provides support in East Kent, Medway and North Kent, works alongside Dogs Trust. CEO Deborah Cartwright, says:

he 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. By working with Dogs Trust and similar programmes, we are able to break down another barrier to leaving, which is essential in supporting the vital work we do to get every victim to safety and enable them to escape abuse and rebuild their lives – one with their beloved pet still in it. This collaborative, multi-agency approach means we can reach and support even more people.

Deb, CEO Oasis

Dogs Trust Freedom Project
0800 298 9199

Cats Protection Paws Protect
0345 260 1280

*Statistics from DogsTrust 2019 survey with Domestic Abuse professionals

Get support

Call our helpline on 0800 917 9948 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 09:30–11:30am, 12:30–2:30pm
Thursday and Friday 09:30–11:30am, except bank holidays) or email (if it’s safe to do so)

If you or your family are in immediate danger please call the police on 999 (if you can’t speak, cough or tap the handset then press 55 on your phone – the police will know it’s an emergency)

In a non-emergency situation, you can call Kent Police on 101.

*All images used on this website are representative. All names are anonymised for people’s safety.

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