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Stepping in, saving lives

Winnipeg Humane Society program allows animal lovers to provide foster pet care when owners escape abusive homes

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Foster a pet, save a life. We hear this slogan often, but a new Winnipeg program now invites concerned citizens to adopt pets to help local humans in need.

This column regularly broaches the topic of abuse. You've read about dogs left to perish in boxes and thoughtless neglect that left a kitten with one eye. Animal abuse is often shocking. Abuse of humans is no less sickening and it's just as perplexing. And now there's something animal-lovers can do to help.

The holidays are traditionally horrible times for those who have abusive people in their lives. Alcohol, money issues, stress -- whatever the trigger, it seems to bring out the worst in them. Because this time of year aggravates the problem, I felt now is appropriate to let you know about a new program offered by the Winnipeg Humane Society. It's called SafePet.

SafePet allows concerned Manitobans to take in dogs, cats, birds, snakes or small animals. Fosters will care for the pet while the abuse victim, predominantly women, can take refuge in a safe place and begin to turn around their lives.

It's an innovative service that is meant to help the abused have one less worry as they face their problems. It has the side benefit of likely saving the lives of their pets.

The Confederation of Humane Societies' Web site has sobering statistics as to why a program like this is needed. The source is a study by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Ontario SPCA) which showed:

-- 44 per cent of women seeking refuge from violence in women's shelters stated that their partner had previously abused or killed one or more of their pets.

-- 42 per cent stated that their partner had threatened to hurt or kill a family pet.

-- 16 per cent confirmed that other family members had either abused or killed a family pet.

-- 43 per cent stated that concern over their pets' welfare had prevented them from leaving the abusive situation earlier.

Two of the leading experts on animal abuse and human abuse show that the linkage is striking. One authority, Dr. Randall Lockwood stated, "when animals are at risk, people are at risk, and when people are at risk, animals are at risk."

We've all heard terrible stories of domestic abuse. Many end in death. The public is often left to wonder why people would put those whom they supposedly love through hell. Research suggests the reason is simply a bid to wield power over others.

The abuser uses pets as a weapon. Often, animal abuse is committed as a warning. The idea is to upset the emotional bond between the victim and their pet. The result is to provoke fear and pain in the household.

Those of us living in loving relationships ask why someone would knowingly put themselves, their kids and/or pets in harm's way. This answer is fear.

Power and fear may be simple answers to the complex motivations of abusers and their victims. But the solutions are anything but simple. Organizations have worked for years creating safe places for victims to take sanctuary and start their lives. They know it takes more than the first step of calling a crisis abuse hotline number. The answer involves the entire community.

This is where the WHS SafePet comes into play. The supply of housing is limited, especially for those with pets. As well, the cost of day-to-day pet expenses is steep. Potential veterinary bills can be expensive, too. Imagine how difficult it would be to cover these expenses for someone starting a new life.

SafePet provides a temporary bridge for those in need. Fostering requirements are unique. Some require their pets to stay in foster briefly, others for a longer period. For this reason, the WHS will match each case to each foster.

This may be an opportunity for you.

For years, you may have wanted to fulfll a much-repeated New Year's resolution to make a difference in the world. Offering your home and skills as a pet lover could make someone's decision to leave an abusive situation easier.

This is vital, because as you know some situations are life or death for the women, children and pets involved. Fostering could also help prevent future abuse. Studies show children who grow up harming animals or living with family violence, are a good risk to perpetuate the cycle.

This season, most of us have given all kinds of presents. But if you gave fostering services to a family in crisis, it would offer them the most impactful gift -- hope for a better life.

Naturally, the SafePet program has requirements for those wishing to help. If you are eager to foster, call (204) 982-2049 or email to find further information and the SafePet Foster Parent Application.

Also, if you are in need of safety yourself, call the Domestic Violence Provincial Crisis Line at 1-877-977-0007 or TTY: 1-888-987-2829. Know that people really do care.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2011 D7

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