Research Shows Scale of Abuse Against Animals in Domestic Abuse Cases

Media release from Cats Protection’s PAWS PROTECT 

New research shows scale of abuse against animals in domestic abuse cases

  • In this research, 88%1 of households involved in domestic abuse, animals were also abused by the perpetrator
  • In over 1 in 10 (12%)2 of households researched, animals were brutally killed by perpetrators to punish, frighten and entrap
  • Where a pet was given as a ‘gift’, abuse against the animal occurred in 94%3 of these households
  • Cats Protection’s Paws Protect and Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project have jointly fostered 1,500 pets in London and the Home Counties since 2004 through their specialist domestic abuse support services, but need more foster carers to help people and their pets fleeing domestic abuse
  • 16 days of action against gender-based violence began on the 25th November7

Almost nine in 101 households who experienced domestic abuse have said that animals were also abused by the perpetrators, according to shocking new research carried out by Refuge4Pets who work in partnership with Dogs Trust. These figures have been released as Cats Protection and Dogs Trust reach a milestone 1,500 pets fostered in the Home Counties, London & Essex on their Freedom Project and Paws Protect, which both support people fleeing domestic abuse by providing temporary foster homes for their dogs and cats.

The research surveyed 107 victim-survivors of domestic abuse and interviewed victim-survivors across the country, to better understand the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse.

Worryingly, the research – carried out by Dr Mary Wakeham – showed that in one in ten (12%)2 of households where domestic abuse was present, the animal – and often multiple animals – had been killed.

Furthermore, in 94%3 of households where an animal was given as a ‘gift’, the animals were then abused and, in some cases, killed by the perpetrator – demonstrating that pets are used as tools by perpetrators of domestic abuse to control and coerce. In addition to the physical abuse that pets may suffer, Dogs Trust found that 97%of professionals working in the domestic abuse sector also said that animals are often used as a means of controlling someone experiencing domestic abuse.

In 2004 Dogs Trust launched its Freedom Project in London, offering vital support for dog owners escaping from domestic abuse, working in partnership with Cats Protection to offer foster homes for cats too. In 2017 the Freedom Project and Cats Protection began an official partnership in the Home Counties and Essex when the charity launched their own specialist service for cats, Paws Protect. The projects provide foster homes for pets, enabling survivors to access safe accommodation without the fear of what may happen to their pet if left behind. As many refuges are unable to accept pets, these important services give survivors the opportunity to escape abuse, safe in the knowledge that their pets will also be safe and well cared for. The pet fostering organisations are also members of the Links Group, which raises awareness of the links between abuse of animals and humans.

The Freedom Project and Paws Protect currently operate across London, the Home Counties and Essex. This year the projects will have fostered 1,500 pets across the area and helped over a thousand people since they both launched (Freedom in 2004 and Paws Protect in 2017). During the pandemic, incidents of domestic abuse soared and Dogs Trust fostered 65% more dogs across the Home Counties and Essex this year compared to the same period in 2020, with Paws Protect seeing their busiest ever quarter with an increase in referrals to the service of 64%.

Rose Abram, Paws Protect Manager at Cats Protection said:

“The research sadly confirms what we see in Paws Protect daily: the exploitation of the bond between a person and their cat to further a perpetrator’s power and control in an abusive relationship. The team speak so often to survivors who are trying to leave their abusive relationship but are in fear for their lives and the lives of their pets, as unfortunately is reflected in Dr Wakeham’s research. When we offer help in the form of Paws Protect, we are able to break down just one of the multiple barriers that survivors face and help them get a step closer to safety.

“The continued increase we have seen in people accessing Paws Protect shows the ongoing necessity of the service and the significance of the relationship between a survivor and their pet. Often, a perpetrator has isolated the survivor from friends and family, so their cat may be the last source of love and affection for both adult and child survivors.

“This 16 days of action against gender-based violence, we are extremely proud to continue to offer the lifeline of Paws Protect to families fleeing domestic abuse. We have fostered over 800 cats, meaning that more than 450 families have been helped to safety and are able to rebuild their lives with their animals.”

Niesha⁶ and her cats Beth and Peter⁶, and Yasmin⁶ and her cats Tim and Tyler⁶ were supported by Cats Protection’s Paws Protect:

Beth and Peter: Paws Protect took in cats Beth and Peter when their owner Niesha was forced to leave her home for safety in refuge because of domestic abuse perpetrated by her ex-partner. She was recently reunited with them after months of being apart, while she received photos and stories about how they were doing in foster from Paws Protect. She said, “I can’t thank you all enough. Without your help I wouldn’t have left and probably would have got hurt. I am so glad my friend found yourselves for me and was able to get me out. I am so much happier being away from all the bad.” When they came home to her, their owner was in touch with the team to say, “Beth and Peter have settled in completely now. I am so glad to have them home with me, they look so healthy and happy. When they were babies they used to get on the bed, go to the pillow and purr and I would open the duvet up and they used to climb in. They have done it every night since I’ve had them home. They are absolutely my world and again I am so grateful for what you all have done.”

Tim and Tyler: Yasmin had to travel more than 200 miles to a refuge with her two young children to safely leave her perpetrator. Paws Protect was able to arrange for her cats Tim and Tyler to be placed with a loving foster home until Yasmin and her children could be reunited. She said, “This service saved mine, my children’s and my cats family. I will be forever grateful for everything this service has done. I can’t wait to start my new chapter in my life and thanks to this service I get to have my fur babies with me. Thank you.”

Amy Hyde, Freedom Project Manager at Dogs Trust said:

“Unfortunately, this new research revealing further links between animal abuse and domestic abuse is not shocking to us. We see first-hand the myriad 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. As 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 vital lifeline.

“This year we mark the 2,000th dog fostered through the Freedom Project since we began. This sobering milestone demonstrates there is still very much a need for our service, and we urgently need more foster carers across the UK so that we can continue this life-saving work.”

Michelle6 and her dog, Coco6, were supported by the Freedom Project in the South of England, she said of her experience:

“The abuse had been going on for a long time, but I kept putting off leaving, mostly because I was worried about where my dogs would go.

“The abuse definitely affected the dogs. There were a lot of threats towards both me and the dogs, but they were never carried out. The dogs would flinch sometimes, and I wasn’t sure then if he was going to hit them.

“The abuse also affected me financially, I had to borrow money from people to be able to get the dogs the vet treatment they needed.

“I always put the dog’s safety before mine, I wouldn’t have left had I not had somewhere safe for the dogs to go, and there was no way I would have left them behind – that’s when I discovered the Freedom Project.

“I felt so supported by the team, it was the little details too that helped so much while I was in the refuge. Being reunited with my dogs was amazing, when they came back to me and they instantly recognised me it was such a wonderful experience. We are all very settled now, and the dogs seem so much happier than before.”

Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer, said:

“Refuge is delighted to continue working in partnership with the Dogs Trust Freedom Project; women, children and their pets have the right to live free from abuse and fear. At Refuge we know that many perpetrators of domestic abuse also harm pets – who are important and much-loved members of so many families in this country.

“Women tell us their partners control and frighten them by threatening to harm or kill their pets, or women experiencing economic abuse tell us of their fear when their perpetrators refuse to pay vet bills or prevent them and their pets from accessing other essentials. Many women still don’t know that there are options to keep pets safe should they need to escape to a refuge – which is why the Dogs Trust Freedom Project is so important to raise awareness of.  Refuge is pleased to continue working with Dogs Trust to ensure women, children and their pets are protected from domestic abuse, and that pet ownership is never a barrier to escaping abuse.”

Dogs Trust Freedom Project needs more specialist foster carers in Berkshire to support this vital service. If you think you can help, would like to donate or would like more information on the service, please visit: www.dogstrust.org.uk/freedom or freedomproject@dogstrust.org.uk or call 0800 298 9199.

Cats Protection’s Paws Protect service needs help from generous volunteers and supporters. If you’d like to get involved or learn more about how we help survivors of domestic abuse and their pets, please visit www.cats.org.uk/paws-protect, email pawsprotect@cats.org.uk or call us on 0345 260 1280.

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