Throughout Freedom Project Week we will be posting accounts from some of the families accessing our service on how abuse affected them and their pets before they found refuge.
I was in a violent relationship and I was a prisoner in my home. I wasn’t really allowed out and spent about 9 months in the house. When I did go outside I was only really allowed to go to the shops and was timed when doing this as my partner knew exactly how long it should take me.
My partner knew how much Albert meant to me and I wasn’t allowed out with him and he was often used against me. Unfortunately Albert did witness violence in the home and was kicked by my partner on occasion. Basically we kept out of my partners’ way and spent most of our time living in the bedroom.
Albert used to get frightened when there was lots of yelling and shouting and would often cower away. But he would always come to see me straight away to see if I was ok.
I was really apprehensive about putting Albert into a foster home but I was relieved more than anything and glad that he could be in a home environment with someone looking after him.
The Freedom Project sent me monthly updates and they really did make my week. I had down days when Albert was away from me but getting pictures of him really cheered me up. I found the summer particularly hard when I missed taking him for walks.
When it was time to get him back I couldn’t wait! I knew it would take him a little time to settle but I was so excited!
Albert is my baby, my whole world.
Lucy was referred via Social Services and we looked after her dog Albert for 6 months on the Freedom Project.
All names have been changed.
Emily and Maisy’s Story
How did you find out about the Dogs Trust Freedom Project?
At the time I was receiving help from a Women’s Aid refuge near where I lived. They were helping me find a place to stay but I couldn’t move in because they couldn’t let me take my dog Maisy. My keyworker at Women’s Aid told me about the Freedom Project.
Why did you need to use the Freedom Project?
I was going through a really hard time; me and Maisy were living with my partner at the time. We had been together for quite a while but things had slowly started to change between us and the relationship became abusive. Things would be bad for a while but then get better again. It took me a long time to realise I had to get out of the relationship but I couldn’t see a way out, I didn’t have the money to set up on my own as I was at college and working part-time. I was reliant on my partner to help pay rent etc. I was scared that if I left he would turn up at my college or work. I didn’t have any close family that could help and Maisy was my only source of comfort at this time. She had been with me through everything and I had had her since she was 6 months old. I couldn’t bear to part with her and did stay longer in the relationship than I should have because I had no where to go. Maisy was my priority and I couldn’t think of leaving unless I knew she would be safe.
Did your dog suffer or witness any abuse before you fled your home? Maisy just witnessed abuse but she was frightened. Despite being a big dog she is very soft and gentle. She would cower and look scared. She is still quite sensitive to raised voices and sounds.
What would you have done if the Freedom Project had not been available to you?
I don’t think I would have been able to leave my partner – there was no way I would leave Maisy behind. I asked friends and family if they could take Maisy but they either had dogs of their own or were working and couldn’t have a dog. I felt embarrassed about telling people the reason for wanting to leave, so I felt people didn’t understand my urgency for needing to find somewhere for Maisy temporarily.
How did you feel when you put you dog on the Freedom Project?
To be honest I felt a huge sense of relief as I just wanted to get out of the house. It was hard for me to part with Maisy, I had never left her before even to go on holiday, so I did feel guilty and it was upsetting to part. The staff at the Freedom Project helped me to be reassured that she would be ok.
How did you find the service from the Freedom Project?
I found it really good. I was desperate to see her but understood why I couldn’t so the photos really helped. They kept me going until I finally got her back. It took me a while to get set up in a place of my own where I could have a dog so the regular updates on Maisy really helped.
How did you feel when you got your dog back?
I was so happy. I was worried that she wouldn’t remember me but she did instantly. I could see she had been really well looked after. She also had some veterinary treatment on the project that I would otherwise have not have been able to afford so I was so grateful to them.
What does your dog mean to you?
Maisy means a lot to me, we are closer than ever now.
Emily was referred to the service via Women’s Aid and Maisy was fostered on the project for 4 months.
All names have been changed.
Allis and Gracie’s story...
I come from Spain where I worked as a teacher and I’m from an educated background. I only say this as I want people to be aware that people from all walks of life and all backgrounds can become a victim of abuse.
I met my husband in Spain. My son adored him. He knew I had rheumatoid arthritis, which is a life-long condition, but he accepted all of us as we were. After one year together, we decided to move to the UK and we brought our dog with us. I wanted to teach here and to improve my English.
Everything was fine for several months following our wedding, but very slowly and gradually I became aware of small changes in my husband’s behaviour. He became controlling of small things around the house, such as when we could watch TV and when we could use the central heating. In front of everyone he was the perfect husband but our home became our prison. I forgot what a normal life was and the abuse escalated to rape.
My son flourished at school. He made fantastic progress and learnt fluent English. But my husband started to threaten him. He never told me as he wanted to protect me and he was afraid. I thought if I kept him happy he would leave my son out of it.
One day I came home and found that my dog wasn’t there. The home was empty. My heart stopped. My husband told me that our dog had had a stroke but he was only 2 years old, so I had strong suspicions he had been involved in some way. My son was understandably devastated at the news.
My husband had a well-paid job but I had no money of my own. Eventually I managed to find a job and when I had the opportunity, I got a new dog for my son and we called her Gracie. My son had missed our first dog so much as she had helped him overcome some health issues when he was younger. However, I felt scared for Gracie and I felt guilty that I didn’t protect my other dog. My husband insisted on walking Gracie, which I found terrifying as I could tell she was afraid, she knew his nature straight away just by instinct, but I felt powerless to stop him.
Over a period of time I didn’t recognise the woman I had become. I lost all my self-confidence. My husband would call me names such as stupid, fat, ugly, disgusting, useless..... I began to believe this was true. My health began to deteriorate and I wasn’t able to get out as easily. This was so convenient for him. I had gone from being a very capable person both socially and physically to someone that wasn’t able to get out of the house.
Eventually I just felt trapped, I felt like a failure inside and a bad mother but I really could not see a way out. Coming from another country I didn’t know about services that were available to me and because of my illness I felt physically weak and unwell.
One evening he attacked me. My son said I stopped breathing and he was pushing him to stop. When I came round after a couple minutes I was able to say to my son: take Gracie and run, run! Then he left and I called the police. I found out that there are people ready to help.
The police made me aware of the Freedom Project and we were able to make arrangements very quickly for Gracie to become fostered with one of their carers. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Gracie is so precious to me, she is like my baby.
I found it hard to put her into foster as I found it hard to trust other people with her care, but when the Freedom Project staff came to collect her I was really reassured. They were very understanding of my situation and I could see that they would take great care of Gracie.
Without the help of my local Women’s Support Service, my son’s school and the Freedom Project, I don't think I would be here writing this now, I would be dead. The Dogs Trust Freedom Project saved our dog Gracie. And saving Gracie is what saved my son’s mental health as well.
Gracie was fostered on the Freedom Project for 9 months and is now happily reunited with her owner.
All names and details have been changed.
Tell us about your life before you fled and how long you endured the abuse for?
Our relationship had always been quite turbulent, it started out with emotional abuse and it occasionally got physical. After the birth of our first daughter it got worse, but after a couple of years things settled down again. It was after the birth of our second child that things escalated and got a lot worse very quickly. I guess I was quite vulnerable, a relatively new mother again with very low self esteem after being told how useless and worthless I was for years. I stuck it out for almost 7 years.
What finally made you leave?
The abuse and violence was getting worse and worse, I felt like I was walking on egg shells whenever he was at home. He wouldn’t care if our daughters witnessed the violence and he was starting to get physical with them. He had always been emotionally abusive towards them but it had started to change. After I got my dog Brandy, he kept telling me that Brandy might not be here when I got back and kept threatening to get rid of her or worse.
On the night I finally left he had gone berserk. He was beating me badly when Brandy tried to protect me, so he turned on her. I thought he was going to kill her as he was trying to strangle her. Somehow I managed to get him off and Brandy was able to escape and hide. I blacked out soon after and when I came round the police were there. That was the final straw for me, I knew I had to leave. I could take the beatings and abuse but I couldn’t let him hurt my babies (my daughters and Brandy) anymore.
Why is Brandy so important to you?
Brandy is one of my babies; she is such a good dog, a great companion and source of unconditional love to my daughters and me. She has been one of the only stable things in our turbulent life, always happy to see us, loving and loyal.
How did you feel when you were separated from Brandy?
It was devastating for us, it was so hard to say goodbye to her but also a massive relief to know she would be safe and well cared for. It’s really hard not to be able to see her but at least we know that one day soon we will be reunited. It may sound silly but I see the foster placement as a type of respite care for her, she has seen and been subjected to so much. Hopefully she has recovered from the trauma she suffered and witnessed, just like we have in the refuge.
What are your hopes for the future?
To have a happy, safe home of our own, with all the family back together again – including Brandy. Just to know we won’t ever have to get up in the middle of the night to flee again is a massive relief. I hope to go to university and just have a normal, happy family life.
Brandy was fostered by her volunteer foster carer for just over 9 months. Since this interview took place, Brandy has been happily reunited with Amanda and her family.
All names have been changed.