A new study in Saskatchewan looks at barriers to escaping intimate partner violence (IPV) for both pet and farm animal owners.
Researcher Crystal Giesbrecht conducted four online surveys in winter 2020. The study listened to IPV victims and survivors who have pets and / or livestock, the general public, animal welfare professionals, and human service professionals.
“We wanted to know what is happening when someone has animals, be it livestock and farm animals or companion animals, and they experimented (VPI),” he said.
“What barriers could they be experiencing in terms of ending the relationship, leaving, and finding safe housing?”
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The director of research and communications for the Provincial Association of Transitional Homes and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) said the findings showed a number of key themes.
“One thing that’s really important is that this really illustrates that when animals are at risk, people are at risk, and when people are at risk, animals are at risk,” Giesbrecht said.
“For the survivors (of IPV)… about 80 percent of the respondents had experienced that their animals had been injured.
“(Companion animals) are sometimes catalysts for people wanting to get out of a dangerous relationship and… such an important source of support when people are going through the most difficult time of their lives, but it’s not just cats and the dogs that provide that for people. Horse owners talked about the importance of that animal bond. “
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Giesbrecht added that even in IPV situations where animals are not harmed, there are still barriers that victims must overcome.
“Even if an abusive partner hasn’t hurt or threatened the animals, it’s a barrier… because (the victims) don’t want to be separated from their animals. They are responsible for their animals, they take care of them and they want to make sure they can keep their animals with them and keep them safe, ”he said.
“When it comes to livestock, sometimes those animals are owned by a joint venture with an abusive partner and there are huge financial implications for leaving that relationship.
“We also hear that very often it is the victim of violence who does most of the care for the animals, so they fear that if they leave the farm, those animals will not be well cared for and could be neglected or hurt. . . Very complicated in terms of knowing what to do. “
Fifty-nine women and one man participated in the victim / survivor survey and 15 were interviewed.
Saskatchewan SPCA, a project partner, said animal abuse seen when GBV is present can go from basic to “terrible.”
“It can be as simple as preventing a victim from interacting with their pet, and many times a pet or animal will be a form of support for a victim of violence. And that’s probably the most basic form we’ll see and it certainly escalates, ”said SPCA Community Relations Coordinator Josh Hourie.
“Unfortunately, we have certainly heard cases of situations where an abuser has killed animals. So it’s something that happens in a number of ways, but it’s certainly not unheard of … where an animal is killed as a form of control that an abuser can exercise over the victim.
“It is very terrible and it is an unfortunate reality of these situations.”
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The study includes recommendations for positive change, including improving access to temporary emergency intervention orders, rental housing and domestic violence shelters that accept pets.
“It can be challenging. Not all (domestic violence) shelters have the space in their building or infrastructure, ”Giesbrecht said.
“Also, many people own different types of animals. When I interviewed 15 survivors, those who had had horses or cows also had dogs and cats, so it’s not just safety planning for a pet. Often it can be safety planning for multiple animals.
“One finding that came out of the research was the importance of emergency intervention orders … this is very important to animal owners sometimes because staying in the home while the abusive partner has to leave allows them to continue feeding and caring for animals. animals”.
Houries echoed the long-term goal of finding pet-friendly domestic violence shelters across the province.
“There are some emergency shelters that take care of pets on a case-by-case basis, but … in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need domestic violence shelters, pet-friendly or not,” he said.
“We know that Saskatchewan has high rates of domestic violence.”
“In our situation here, if we can move in the direction of having pet-friendly emergency shelters that are available to everyone when they need them without questions being asked, then certainly that would be a measure of success.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, there are resources available. In the event of an emergency, call 911 for immediate help.
Are you or someone you know being abused? Visit the Justice Department Victim Services Directory for a list of support services in your area.
Women, trans and non-binary people can find an additional list of resources here.
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