A new service, The Freedom Project, launched on Wednesday June 9 by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – will open the door to freedom for thousands of London women, and their dogs, who are victims of domestic violence.
In the UK there are around 5.15 million households that own a dog1. Research has indicated that there is a link between animal abuse and domestic violence; men who are violent to women may threaten to harm or actually kill a beloved pet in order to intimidate their partner into obedience and silence, thereby using the pet to maintain power and control. Many women remain in a violent domestic situation simply for fear of what might happen to their pet if they flee without it, especially if it means having to separate children from their beloved family pet.
The Freedom Project is an innovative pet fostering scheme for women going into refuges or temporary accommodation. It works by temporarily placing the dog at risk with a volunteer foster carer who will care for that dog in their own home until they can be safely reunited with their owner. During the foster placement the Freedom Project provides all pet food and veterinary treatment free of charge. Total anonymity is assured, dogs will not be fostered in the area where the owner is from and the carer who fosters the dog will not know who the owner is or where they live. Freedom Project staff provide help and support and each placement is monitored on a regular basis.
There are nearly 13 million incidents of domestic violence against women annually in the UK3 and two women are killed each week by a current or former partner.
Clare Kivlehan, Freedom Project Manager, said:
“Unfortunately women often remain in a violent situation as they fear their partner will deliberately harm their pet if they leave; it often comes down to making the choice between your own safety and that of their dogs. The Freedom Project allows women in this terrible situation to know that their beloved pet will be cared for and they can escape the violent household and into safety.”
Sandra Horley OBE, Chief Executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, said:
“One woman I met told me that her husband often used the dog as a weapon of control and in a rage threw their beloved dog off the balcony of their high rise flat. If a man can hit an animal the woman is bound to think “it could be me next”. With the Freedom Project only a phone call away women and children can now be sure that their pets can also be rescued. Women, children and their pets all have a right to live in safety.”
Nicola Harwin CBE, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, the national domestic violence charity, commented:
“The statistics are shocking, with one in four women experiencing domestic violence at some stage in their lives. We know that many women have to make tough choices when deciding to leave an abuser – and abusers use threats to kill or torture a family pet as a form of control. The Freedom project will help many of these vulnerable pets and we commend Dogs Trust for developing this much needed service.”
Anyone who feels they need to use the service should contact the Freedom Project on 0800 298 9199, email email@example.com or write to Freedom Project, PO Box 50208, London EC1V 7XP.
Dogs Trust is also urging anyone who thinks that they could help and become a Foster Carer to contact the Freedom Project. Applicants will need to be able to look after the dog during the day, live in the Greater London Area and have experience in caring for dogs.
If any women are suffering domestic violence they should call the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge. The freephone helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and all calls are confidential.