Shelter opens door to abused women - and their pets
Owen Sound centre believed to be first of its kind in Canada

By Roberta Avery Special to The Toronto Star

OWEN SOUND - Women fleeing to the Grey Bruce Women's Centre from an abusive partner can now take along the family dog.

The Owen Sound centre, which is believed to be the first in Canada to offer shelter to abused women's pets, has already had some canine guests occupy a kennel that was built at the shelter just before Christmas.

On Thursday, the shelter will accept delivery of a second kennel built by students of St. Mary's High School, using donated materials, to offer a haven for the pets of the abused women staying at the centre.

``We want women to know they no longer have to stay in an abusive situation because they fear for their pet's life,'' said Bonnie Woudstra, a counsellor at the centre who rallied community support for the kennel project.

In her 10 years working with abused women and children, Woudstra was often frustrated when she heard tales of abusers killing or torturing pets to gain power and control, but there was little she could do.

``Many women delay leaving abusive situations because they fear for the life of their beloved pet,'' she said.

``As far as we know, this is a first in Canada and it's fantastic that so many people have pulled together to make it possible,'' said Woudstra.

A study conducted last year by the centre and by Interval House, a women's shelter in Hamilton, in conjunction with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, determined that two-thirds of women entering the shelters over a two-month period owned pets.

Of those, 56 per cent reported their partner had hurt or killed one or more of their pets. Examples included throwing a cat from a 13th-floor apartment, hanging a cat and shooting dogs.

Half of the women with pets reported they had delayed leaving an abusive situation because of fear for their pet's safety.

``It's a very real concern,'' said Vicky Earle, chief executive officer of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Newmarket.

Recent research has indicated violent offenders frequently have childhood and teenage pasts that include serious and repeated animal cruelty, said Earle. The society's Family Violence Assistance Program works with women's shelters across the province to try to arrange emergency accommodation for the pets of abused women, she said.

Study shows 56% of women at one shelter owned pets

The results of the study didn't come as a surprise to Woudstra.

A call from an abused woman distraught because her partner had poured bleach into her dog's only water bowl was all too familiar, she said. ``The message . . . is clear: `If you don't do as I say, I'll kill your pet.' ''

While most of the women reported animal abuse occurring during temper fits, others reported a more subtle but equally sinister approach.

``One man coolly lined up his wife and three young children and then shot the children's pet kitten in front of their eyes,'' said Woudstra.

Inspector Betty Van Seters, manager of the Humane Society of Durham Region, who also serves on the Ontario SPCA's Violence Prevention Coalition with Woudstra, said animal cruelty and child and spousal abuse often go hand in hand. ``We see it all too often,'' she said.

Back To The Shelter Movement

This Page was updated on 27th January, 2001