Thursday, 28 November 2013

Freedom Project Week: Day 4

Helping Male Victims of Domestic Violence

We do recognise that domestic violence can affect anyone and everyone in society and our service is accessible to all individuals experiencing domestic violence regardless of their gender. Nobody should have to live with abuse or the threat of abuse - neither man nor woman. However, most of the services we work with exist to respond to the needs of women and children, so the majority of our clients are therefore women. Over the last 12 months we have helped 6 male clients through the Freedom project. Our male clients will have experienced abuse within a heterosexual or same sex relationship or from a parent/close family member.

More About The Freedom Project... 

from Clare Kivlehan – Outreach Projects Manager

Why did Dogs Trust set up the Freedom Project?

In 2001 I attended a conference called ‘Making the Links’ where speakers highlighted the emerging links, or ‘inter-relationships’, between the abuse of children, vulnerable adults and animals.  One of the issues that came out of this groundbreaking conference was the lack of pet fostering services available for families fleeing domestic violence and the need for animal welfare organisations to respond. 

It’s not practical for refuges to take pets and often friends and family are unable to look after some pets, such as dogs and cats, for long periods of time.  In addition, in many domestic violence situations the perpetrator will threaten to or actually harm the family pet as a way of controlling the woman and her family.  In fact, many definitions of domestic abuse now include the abuse of pets by the perpetrator. 

How do you think it helps women in need?

In enables them to make the decision to flee domestic violence knowing that we are here to place their pets in a home environment, so that they don’t have to worry when they already have so many other things to consider.  All our staff receive domestic violence awareness training so that they understand the priorities of the families facing this situation.  We work with Refuge, Women’s Aid and other referral agencies such as the police and social services to ensure families find out about us as early on as possible. 

The volunteer foster carers involved in the project have experience of caring for dogs and fully understand what the dog may have experienced beforehand.  We regularly monitor the foster placements and in turn ensure that the families are regularly updated on their pet’s welfare – we send out notes and photographs.  This is a big comfort, especially for the children in the family, as it reassures them they will be reunited with their pet after what will have been a very traumatic time. 

Here are some quotes taken from letters sent to us by families who have used the service:

“I can’t express in words what you have done for me and the children.  Nothing seems adequate.  You made what was and has been the worst time of our lives so much more bearable.  The notes and photos you sent about our dog kept me sane.”

“Thank you for all the help and support you have given us.  I was refusing to flee for a long time because of my dog who is my constant companion and best friend.  Your help gave me the strength to flee which in turn has given us a better life.”

 “Without this service I would probably have been killed by now by my abuser, I could not have left my dog behind and I had no one else to look after him”

 “Thank you so much for taking care of my dog. If it wasn’t for Dogs Trust and kind people like you, I would never have been able to leave and get to safety. I would not have left my dog at home, in danger, so you have probably saved our lives”

 “I feel like you saved my life because there is no way I would have left my dog before and you helped me get away.  Thank you so much.  I will always be in debt to you.”

Where would these women be without the Freedom Project?

They would find it difficult to find someone to look after their pets for the length of time it now takes to be re-housed.  The average stay for a dog on our project at the moment is around 5 months.  As mentioned, some women would choose to stay in a domestic violence situation for fear of what would happen to their pets should they leave without them.  In some cases the family would be forced to rehome their pets through no other choice or leave without them. 

The need for the service has gone way above our original expectations and since the project began in 2004 we have helped over 1,100 pets.

Meet The Team

Lucy  – Freedom Project Coordinator

My name’s Lucy and I’ve worked on the Freedom Project for almost 2 ½ years. Before coming to Dogs Trust I previously worked for another rescue centre where I worked in re-homing and later as an Animal Welfare Officer. This is where I would often bring various waifs and strays home including my beloved cat Doris.

My role as Freedom Project Coordinator is to manage the project and oversee the day-to-day running of the service. Every day on the Freedom Project is different, but generally my role involves recruiting and supporting foster carers, monitoring foster placements and helping to promote and develop the service.  Despite the challenges we face on the project, I really enjoy my role and love when we finally get to re-unite a dog with their owner again, having been separated from them for several months.

Amy – Freedom Project Assistant

I’m Amy and I have been the Freedom Project Assistant for just over a year. Before I started in this position, I studied a course in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, and worked as a dog walker and trainer.

My role as Freedom Project Assistant involves placing new foster dogs in their temporary homes, providing support for our foster carers through regular home visits, interviewing foster carers and, the best bit, returning pets to their owners. I spend a lot of time out and about with this role, but on my office days my little terrier Oscar enjoys coming to work too!

Lauren – Outreach Projects Administrator

My name’s Lauren and I’m the administrator for a number of Dogs Trust projects, including the Freedom Project. I joined Dogs Trust in February this year so I’m the newest member of the team.

My role is to provide administrative support to the Freedom Project, which includes processing invoices, helping with mailings to recruit new foster carers and attending events.

When the Freedom team are out of the office at home visits or placing new dogs, I also cover their phones and take referrals from clients accessing the service and from the volunteers who care for their dogs. 

Clare – Outreach Projects Manager

I have been working at Dogs Trust in various roles within the Outreach department for nearly 14 years. I set up the Freedom Project back in 2004 in response to the amount of enquiries we were receiving from both families fleeing domestic violence and referral agencies, such as refuges and the police. Today we run many projects and services within our team, all related to housing and housing crisis, but this service in particular is extremely important due to the risk of abuse or actual abuse that families and their pets face before they are able to flee. 

The London and Yorkshire teams do a fantastic job helping families access the service and in supporting our fantastic foster carers.  No two days are ever the same and it can be very challenging at times but, as Lucy commented above, this service not only enables families to flee domestic violence but ensures they are the reunited with their pets after what can be a very harrowing time for them. 

Lynsey – Outreach Project Development Coordinator

I’m Lynsey and I’ve worked at Dogs Trust for more than 7 years. The Freedom Projects is just one of the Outreach Projects I work on.

My main job for the Freedom Project is to help develop the service both in London and Yorkshire. I put together any literature or resources that the team need and I help them to update their paperwork and referral forms.

At the moment we are filming some new videos about the Freedom Project to highlight the service and hopefully recruit some new foster carers! 

The Yorkshire team is made up of Diane, Freedom Project Co-ordinator and Sam and Sarah, Freedom Project Assistants.  The project is supported by the London team.

Day in the Life of a Freedom Project Assistant 

on the Yorkshire Project


The first job of the day is always to check my emails and telephone messages. This morning we have received an urgent referral from a Women’s Support Group. They are helping a family fleeing from domestic violence who will be going into a refuge where they cannot take their dog. I send out the referral paperwork by email so that we can get as much information as possible about the dog in order to find her a suitable foster home.

My next job is to carry out a routine home visit to one of the dogs that we are already fostering on the project. Before we visit our foster dogs, we check whether the carer needs anything, such as toys or treats. The foster dog I am visiting today needs a warm coat now the weather is getting colder.

At the home visit, I check that the dog is up to date with his routine flea and worming treatments and discuss any issues or concerns that the foster carer has. I also take some pictures of the dog which I’ll send to his owner with an update on how he is doing in his foster home.


When I arrive back at the office, I find that we have received the referral paperwork back from this morning. I call the owner to get some further information about the dog to help me find the right foster carer. I have a carer in mind for this dog so I call him to discuss the dog and go through all the details. He is happy to take her so I call the dog’s owner back to tell her that we are able to take her dog onto the project and to arrange a safe time and place to collect her. The next step is to complete all the necessary paperwork ready to collect the dog from her owner.

The project co-ordinator also informs me that another referral we dealt with a couple of days ago, a lady who needed to flee her home, has fallen through as she has returned to her partner.  This is very disappointing as we had found a foster carer and made plans to pick the dog up.  However, we are used to these situations as around a third of the referrals we plan fall through due to the nature of our work. 

Before I leave for the day I make up a pack of dog items ready to take to the foster carer when I drop off his new foster dog. The pack includes everything the dog will need; a collar, lead, an id tag, bowls, toys, treats, a comfy bed and food.

Our project co-ordinator will be attending an event tomorrow to promote the service so I also put together some project literature for her. 

It’s been another busy but rewarding day on the Freedom Project!

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