Monday, 22 December 2008

Peace on Earth for victims of abuse this Christmas?

I know the blog's been quiet for a few days and I promise to liven it up with some more cheerful subjects as the week goes on, but there is something I'd like to write about today that is very important but somewhat more depressing.

This Christmas will see the continuation of cycles of abuse for many adults, children and animals. I've mentioned our Freedom Project before, which finds foster homes for pets to enabled families to escape domestic violence, but it's once again very relevant as statistics from domestic violence charity Refuge show that up to 9 pets a week are being abused.

Peter Wedderburn, who writes an excellent veterinary blog for The Telegraph, has been writing about the Links Group, and the training that newly qualified vets are now receiving in spotting abuse. Chris Laurence, Dogs Trust's Veterinary Director, also had this to say:
“At the moment only undergraduates receive this training as part of their course. However a national protocol for the whole profession, for vets either in training or practising, is being produced by the Links Group in consultation with the British Veterinary Association. We hope this will have a real impact on uncovering cases of domestic violence perhaps unspotted elsewhere.”
If a vet examining an injured pet were to spots signs of abuse they would be encouraged to report their suspicions to two parties: the RSPCA for the animal abuse and social services for suspected domestic violence cases. For safety reasons the vet would not be named as the source of information.

Research shows that men who are violent to women may threaten to harm or actually kill a beloved pet in order to intimidate their partner, thereby using them to maintain power and control. Abuse of pets can also be a precursor to domestic or child abuse.

Most refuges and temporary accommodation facilities are unable to allow pets, meaning many victims remain in a violent domestic situation for fear of what might happen to their pet if they flee without it. This is especially the case if it means having to separate children from their beloved family pet.

Currently running in Greater London and Yorkshire, the Freedom Project temporarily places the dog with a volunteer foster carer who will care for that dog in their own home until they can be safely reunited with their owner.

Over 500 pets have been helped since the project launched four years ago.

Clare Kivlehan, Freedom Project Manager, explains:
“With two women killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner[4] and 43% of the population owning pets in the UK[5], we’re concerned that many pets are at risk – 9 pets reported abused every week could just be the tip of the iceberg.

We receive referrals every day and we urgently need more volunteer foster carers in the Greater London and Yorkshire areas so we can meet demand.”
One Freedom Project client, Sophia[6], used the project for six months after her ex partner attacked her:
“My ex’s behaviour had become increasingly threatening but it came to a head one day when he attacked me with a Stanley knife in our own home.

Our dog Sam had always been a big daft lad but when that happened he leapt to my rescue and pinned my ex down until the police arrived. Sam is very much a member of the family and my two kids were devastated at the thought of leaving him when we found out the refuge didn’t allow pets.

When I was referred to the Freedom Project we were all just so grateful. We received letters and photo updates every month from the project coordinator and once we had relocated we were reunited with Sam six months later.”
Sandra Horley OBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, provides an example of a case study not as lucky as Sophia:
“One woman I met told me that her husband often used the dog as a weapon of control and in a rage threw their beloved dog off the balcony of their high rise flat. If a man can hit an animal the woman is bound to think “it could be me next”. With the Freedom Project only a phone call away women and children can now be sure that their pets can also be rescued. Women, children and their pets all have a right to live in safety.”
Anyone who feels they need to use the Freedom Project service or could be a volunteer carer should contact the Freedom Project on 0800 298 9199 (Greater London) or 0800 083 4322 (Yorkshire) or email

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