Luton domestic abuse survivor tells how husband threatened to torture dog to death

'He tried to drown him and was locking him outside the house in freezing cold weather'

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 11:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th November 2021, 11:44 pm

A Luton woman has highlighted the often unseen damage done to pets caught up in domestic violence as animal charities this week join up for the 16 Days of Action against gender-based abuse (Nov 25 to Dec 10).

Her story highlights a report that 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 Dogs Trust and Cats Protection 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.

Pets can be used as pawns in domestic violence situations - photo Olivia Hemingway

Jane (not her real name) is a domestic abuse survivor who was supported by Woman’s Aid in Luton.

She said: “My dog was the only thing that was keeping me sane due to the violence and control of my husband at home, then my husband started to be physically violent to the dog and tried to drown him and was locking him outside the house in freezing cold weather.

“The abuse to me was getting worse, but he told me if I left he would torture the dog to death. I rang a Domestic Abuse Helpline and told them I needed to leave but was scared for my dog. I was so happy when they said there was a place for my dog to go if I went into refuge. It gave me the courage to leave the violence and life has changed completely for me.”

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%4 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, expanding to Bedfordshire in 2019 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. 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%.

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.”

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.”

Dogs Trust Freedom Project needs more specialist foster carers in Bedfordshire 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 email [email protected] 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 [email protected] or call [email protected]0345 260 1280.