Pets are suffering from lockdown domestic abuse too, charity warns

The rise in domestic abuse incidents during the coronavirus lockdown has had a side effect on the pets of those affected, a charity says.

West Mercia Animal Refuge provides safe and secure pet foster placements for people who have to flee their homes because of domestic abuse, with the aim of re-uniting them once it is safe. The charity was set up in May and operates in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

Alison Hatton from the charity said that the documented rise in domestic abuse cases this year (more than 9,000 reports were made to West Mercia Police between April and September, a four per cent rise on the previous year) meant that more children and animals are at risk.

She said: "We offer pet foster homes for anything up to six months and provide all the things the animal needs while in that foster home such as food and vet treatment.

"Due to the Covid lockdown there has been a sharp increase in incidents of domestic abuse across the country.

"Current research documented by national Women's Aid and local refuge shelters and services show that their helpline calls have risen over 50 per cent compared to the same period last year.

"The recently published Women's Aid reports ‘Nowhere to Turn 2020’ and ‘The Domestic Abuse Report 2020 – The Hidden Housing Crisis’ highlights how survivors of domestic abuse continue to face a range of barriers to accessing safety with the lack of appropriate accommodation.

"Children being at home all day and the possible economic difficulties have seen a dramatic rise in the incidences of domestic abuse and women having to leave their home to access a place of safety which has put a priority need on all services offering support."

She said that women and men who worry about what would happen to their pets if they left an abusive relationship might delay leaving, or later return to the relationship.

"Children often utilise preventative strategies to stop their mothers’ partners harming their pets. They hide them in their room or take them outside. Some confront the abuser to prevent them harming their pet.

"Children exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural, socio-emotional, and cognitive difficulties and, in the case of witnessing co-occurring animal abuse and domestic violence, appear to be at higher risk of harming other animals.

"Concern for the wellbeing of the pet often results in those experiencing domestic abuse delaying leaving, remaining in, or returning to abusive relationships. Many fleeing domestic abuse have strong bonds with their pets and many are in untenable situations where they had to put their own safety first as well as that of their children.

"With few services available to help them pets are often left at the mercy of the abuser and/or are sent into less than ideal circumstances.

"Domestic violence affects companion animals, not just humans. Like humans, animals experience physical and emotional effects from direct or witnessed violence.

"Domestic violence, especially when it is chronic, can be demoralising if not depressing for all sentient beings who are likely to be met with different forms of abuse from their perpetrators. It is so important for the person and their children to know that they will be reunited with their pet at some point in the future when it is safe for them both."

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