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Staffie is face of RSPCA campaign

A STAFFORDSHIRE Bull Terrier has been chosen as the face of the RSPCA PetRetreat scheme, which helps the animal victims of domestic violence.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Petra, who now lives with her new family near Newton Abbott, Devon was taken into the temporary care of the RSPCA as her former owner was fleeing domestic violence in Berkshire. The friendly black and white dog had to have one of her back legs removed after her former owners' abusive partner allegedly broke several places by repeatedly kicking her over a series of months.

PetRetreat fills the gaps left by refuges, very few of which can arrange pet fostering and most of which cannot shelter pets due to health and safety regulations and allergy concerns. Pet owners seeking refuge are usually forced to rely on the kindness of friends when it comes to looking after their pets. If friends can't step in to take temporary care of the animals, then often a traumatic decision must be reached to give them up for rehoming or have them put to sleep.

For many, leaving home without a safe refuge for their pets is not an option, so they stay in a dangerous situation where they, and often their pets, are subjected to recurring threats and violence. However, pets taken in under the RSPCA PetRetreat scheme will be offered temporary homes with a network of specially selected fosterers until the victim relocates from the refuge.

The scheme operates in strict confidence to protect its client’s anonymity, so in order to give the scheme an identity, it was decided to select one animal as the ‘face’ of the campaign. Petra was chosen to become both the campaign’s face and logo and also to serve as a reminder that with help, there can be a happy ending for animal victims of domestic violence.

Carolyn Southwell, the RSPCA PetRetreat co-ordinator said: ‘It is common
for animals involved in the scheme to be fostered for anything from a few weeks to eight or nine months.

‘But when Petra was taken in under and fostered under the PetRetreat scheme it soon became apparent that her owner was going to have an unusually long wait before she and her children could be re-housed.

‘For that reason, her owner took the selfless decision that it would be fairer on Petra if she signed the dog over to the RSPCA so she could be found a loving new home.’

The PetRetreat scheme, formerly known as 'Petsafe', started in June 2002 as a pilot project working with refuges in Somerset, Bristol and Bath. It has since grown to cover the whole of the South and South West and is due to spread into Wales and the West.

Southwell added: ‘Although Petra's case is very unusual, in so far as she was not returned to her original family, she does show that there is hope for these animals.

‘Petra stands for every animal that has been beaten or petrified as a result of being caught up in domestic violence. Petra stands for PetRetreat withdrawing these animals from danger so the families can concentrate on their own safety.’

Pets are fostered for as long as necessary, but their owners are encouraged to take them back as soon as is practical, to cause minimum disruption to the animal. However, in many cases it can take several months before an owner has found a permanent home and is in the position to care for their pet again.

All the costs of caring for the animals in the scheme are met by the RSPCA but owners are encouraged to contribute if they can.

In order to help as many people as possible, more animal fosterers are desperately needed to help care for animals that go through the scheme, like Petra.

Southwell said: ‘As we do not know how long the pet will be in the scheme the fosterers we recruit are very special people; they may have a pet in their home for anything from a few days to a year.’

‘Also, because of the difficult backgrounds they have come from, some of the animals may be nervous or have behavioural problems. But we work hard to ensure only suitable pets are placed with fosterers, who receive as much support from us as possible.’