The animals usually come to them in good shape.
That’s the point, according to Krista Foreman, a veterinarian and owner of SouthPaw Animal Hospital in Fredericton.
Women fleeing domestic violence usually love and care for their animals. That’s why the Safe For Pets Too program exists – to find a temporary home until a woman can find a safe, animal-friendly place to live.
Safe For Pets Too works with shelters and police stations to take in animals that women don’t want to leave behind when they escape a situation of abuse. In just over a decade of taking in dogs, cats, horses, reptiles, and even a goat, Foreman estimates the program has had a 95 percent success rate in reconnecting owners with their pets.
Volunteers care for pets for up to 30 days while women using the program look for suitable housing. If necessary, that foster period can be extended to 60 days.
“I’m glad it’s available to help people,” says Foreman, who helped start the program in 2011.
Foreman graduated from Atlantic Vet College in 1999 and has been running her animal hospital in Fredericton since 2004. She helps find volunteers to care for animals and coordinates with veterinarians who are willing to spend their time examining rescued pets.
There are some volunteers who have been nurturing since the program’s inception, Foreman said.
Safety comes first
For safety reasons, volunteers don’t post photos of the foster animals on social media, and the animals they take in aren’t from the same area they live in — not even the survivor knows where their pet is until they’re reunited. although they get regular updates on the welfare of the animal.
The program helps about 15 to 20 women each year, according to Tammy Ward, a retired RCMP officer who also chairs the program committee.
She said when the program first started, people started using it right away. One of the first women to use Safe For Pets Too had an autistic son whose companion was a dog.
“She basically said, ‘This is my relative, I can’t just leave it behind.'”
Ward said many women feel the same way; out of fear of what might happen to their pet, or that they’ll never be able to get the pet back once they’re gone.
Women’s shelters also don’t take in animals, another barrier to abusers, Ward said. Money can also be an issue; sometimes women who leave violent situations do not work and have no source of income to care for their pet.
“They often leave with nothing but what they’re wearing, so it’s hard for them to start over.”
How it works
For security reasons, the program isn’t as simple as going to a survivor’s home and picking up the pet.
Women who want to use the program must apply through a shelter, the RCMP or local police, or an outreach worker, who then connects to Safe for Pets Too. This is because the program’s mandate isn’t for property disputes, Ward said, but to help people fleeing domestic violence who say their animal could be injured or killed if they leave.
Once the applications come in to Safe For Pets Too, Ward said the program will be coordinated with the New Brunswick SPCA and law enforcement, who are responsible for actually rounding up the animals.
Women then look for safe, pet-friendly housing while foster carers care for their animals. Once they find housing, they are reunited with their pet.
It’s not an easy process. But, Ward said, these women “are strong, they’re resilient, and they do it.”