Some domestic violence victims are staying in abusive homes because they fear for the safety of their pets if they leave, according to a study by the SPCA.

Between 2014 and 2016, the animal welfare service led a study into the extent of the problem in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan SPCA animal safekeeping co-ordinator Leanne Sillers said the study asked workers at "human services", including women's shelters and victim services, if they knew of victims whose pets had stopped them from fleeing domestic violence.

According to the study, about 77 per cent of those surveyed said that they did. 

"Animals are being used as another way of power and control over the victims of domestic violence," said Sillers.

"Whether it's not allowing the person to buy dog food or threatening to harm the animal, saying that, 'If you leave, what's going to happen?'"

Pets an extra barrier

The study was a partnership between the Saskatchewan SPCA, Stops to Violence, the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services, the University of Regina and the Ministry of Justice.

It was prompted by the results of a similar study by the SPCA in Alberta in 2012.

Sillers said the results confirm that the pet issue creates an extra barrier for victims. Her own personal research leads her to believe up to 50 per cent of domestic violence victims could be delaying their escape to protect their pets. 

"It's already challenging enough to make the decision to say, 'I'm not in a healthy relationship and how do I get out of this?'" said Sillers.

"Money, children are involved, and now you have, 'What am I going to do with my dog?'"

Saskatoon shelters don't allow animals: SPCA

Sillers said victims who find themselves in this situation can get a referral from a social worker or police officer to have their pets housed in a shelter temporarily. The Saskatoon SPCA facility is among those that take referrals but Sillers suggested contacting the shelters directly for more information.

Transition housing, women's shelters and social support services do not currently allow animals in Saskatoon.

She said finding new homes for animals could be even more difficult in a farming province like Saskatchewan, where many people own larger animals such as horses and even herds of cattle.  

"It's not just a dog, it's not just a cat or a bird, it's somebody's, you know — that unconditional love and acceptance that the animals offer," said Sillers.

Her role at the SPCA is to research Saskatchewan services and make recommendations on how to address the issue.

"Ideally, it would be wonderful to have a shelter that takes women and their kids as well, that they can bring their animals as well," said Sillers.

"Whether that happens or not, I don't know."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning