A new partnership between the B.C. SPCA and an emergency shelter society in Victoria aims to help women with pets leave abusive situations.

The program means women staying at the Victoria Women's Transition House can board their pets with the SPCA for about two weeks at a time.

"We know that a woman who is in an abusive relationship and has a pet is more likely to leave that violent situation at home if she can be assured that her pet will be taken care of," said Susan Howard, development director at the Victoria Women's Transition House Society.

Delay leaving, return sooner

Women often delay leaving abusive relationships and even return to a bad situation sooner out of fear for the family pet, according to research by the University of Windsor.

"We're trying to figure out a way to eliminate this barrier for women," said Howard.

One reason is that abusers sometimes threaten to harm animals or even kill them in order to maintain control in a relationship, she added.

"It's actually pretty common. Domestic abuse is often about power and control," Howard told Jason D'Souza, host of CBC's All Points West.

Howard said pets are often considered a member of the family.

"A family pet is often the companion and support to a woman ... in a violent situation," she said.

Health concerns about allergies prevent the shelter from being able to accept dogs, cats, rabbits, birds or other domestic pets, which is where the SPCA comes in.

Staff at the transition house hope to help at least a couple of women each month, but the cost of boarding one animal for two weeks at the SPCA is about $400, according to Howard.

Right now, the society has a "few hundred dollars" in the bank to support the program, but Howard said it won't be enough.

"If we can secure that funding then we can make this program available to women we hear from every day who are looking for some way out of their abusive situation."