They are the often-forgotten victims in domestic violence — the much-loved pets of women in abusive relationships who are frequently subject to maltreatment as a power and control tactic in the cycle of violence.
But now, in recognition of that link, the Squamish-based Howe Sound Women’s Centre has been instrumental in reducing the obstructions to women seeking escape from violent relationships.
“Often women advocate, and I know this from experience, that if they can’t take their beloved pet with them, they are not prepared to leave the relationship because usually a woman has experienced isolation and that pet has been a source of emotional support and unconditional love and she doesn’t want to give them up,” said Shannon Cooley-Herdman, Pearl’s Place transition house manager.
“So transition houses not having pet facilities is a real barrier to women who may feel that there is only one living being in the world who can understand them, with that being their pet.”
And so Project Dog Run was initiated, thanks to a $1,450 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.
Consisting of a 1.7- by- two-square-metre fenced area on the property of the Squamish transition house and an insulated dog house, the dog run allows one to two large animals to stay at the transition house. In the past, the house was only able to house small pets in the residents’ rooms.
Cooley-Herdman said that a few things converged to make the project possible, including animal lovers on staff who actively expressed the desire to expand the ability of the transition house to take large pets, along with the understanding that there was a great need for the project.
But she clarified that although the HSWC is happy to offer the service, it is only available to those who really need it.
“What we’ve created is a program of last resort — it’s only available if the woman can’t find alternate arrangements.”
She added that the transition house also allows women to bring one to two cats, hamsters or birds during their 30-day stay.
With the much-needed added feature now available at the transition house, animals can stay safe and not be exposed to acts of cruelty at the hands of the abuser.
It is a statistical fact that more women would be encouraged to get themselves and their children safe if the dog-run option was available, Cooley-Herdman said.
“Part of what we are trying to do is reduce barriers to getting women to a safe place and that includes being pet-friendly.”
Cooley-Herdman said that if the opportunity arises to expand the pet facility in the future, the women’s centre would be happy to undergo such an expansion.
Yet at the moment, as there is no operational money for the program and women often arrive at the transition house with little or no food, Cooley-Herdman said the HSWC is is seeking donations in the form of dog food, cat food, leashes and collars. Please drop off donations to the women’s centre at 38021 Third Ave.