Charities supporting victims warn that pets are used by abusers to keep victims trapped because they fear what would happen to their animal if they escape – but most refuge accommodation don’t accept pets.
Domestic abuse soared during the pandemic and charities say abuse can escalate during the festive season.
The Dogs Trust offers a lifeline through the Freedom Project, which collects dogs and places them into volunteer foster homes, while keeping the placement strictly confidential.
Now the charity urgently needs more people to volunteer as foster carers in Edinburgh, after demand for the service shot up by 64 per cent in 2020 and 2021.
The plea comes as shocking new research has revealed almost nine in 10 households who experienced domestic abuse have said that animals were also abused by the perpetrators.
In the vast majority of households where an animal was given as a ‘gift’, the animals were then abused and, in some cases, killed by the perpetrator.
Audrey’s dog Millie was placed in a foster home when she escaped her abusive ex partner. She said:
“I had been in the relationship for many years and didn’t realise what was happening at the time, he had full control over everything. I ended up falling out with my family because of the relationship and that made me even more isolated when the pandemic hit.
“During lockdown, we were in the house together 24/7, the physical abuse was bad but the emotional abuse was much, much worse.
“My ex-partner never hurt Millie, but it was always in the back of my mind, what would happen if I left? Millie has witnessed a lot of abuse which has really affected her. You can’t raise your voice around her otherwise she cowers.
“I think if I had known about the Freedom Project earlier, I would have left years ago. I remember sitting outside praying to the stars. I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t lose my dog; I would have rather lived in my car.
"If it wasn’t for Dogs Trust having a safe place for Millie to go, I would have stayed and I honestly don’t think I would have survived.”
“On Millie’s birthday they sent me photos of Millie with her birthday presents. I cried my eyes out.”
Amy Hyde, Freedom Project Manager at Dogs Trust said:
“We see first-hand the ways that perpetrators use dogs to coerce, control, physically harm and threaten within abusive relationships. This is incredibly frightening for survivors and is often aimed to leave people isolated. We have heard of perpetrators not letting survivors walk their dogs alone, stopping them from accessing vet care for their dogs or being able to spend money on dog food and even repeatedly threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of their dogs.
“To instil fear and entrap, perpetrators prey on the strong bonds people have with their beloved pets - making these animals vulnerable to abuse because of the psychological and
emotional damage that this causes. Many refuges are unable to accept pets, survivors are understandably concerned about their dog’s safety when they need to escape; the
Freedom Project offers them a lifeline.”