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
``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
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.
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This Page was updated on 27th January, 2001