Nova Scotia

Amherst program helps women escape domestic violence, save pets

A new program at a women's shelter in Amherst, N.S., aims to make the decision to leave an abusive relationship easier by providing a safe place for the family pets.

Ensuring pets' safety can 'make or break' women's decision to leave, says Ruth Currie of Autumn House

The Lillian Allbon Animal Shelter in Amherst, N.S., helps stray animals that need foster and adoptive homes. (Lillian Allbon Animal Shelter)

A new program offered through a women's shelter in Amherst, N.S., aims to make the decision to leave an abusive relationship easier by providing a safe place for family pets. 

"Pets are members of our family and in the consideration of leaving an abusive situation and maybe leaving your home, the idea of leaving pets behind is really scary," said Ruth Currie, acting executive director of Autumn House. 

"You would want them to be safe, too." 

Fearing for the family pet

Currie said she often hears from women who are thinking about leaving an abusive partner but can't find a temporary home for their dog or cat. Families cannot bring animals to the shelter and may fear for the safety of their pets if they leave them behind. 

"It can make or break somebody's decision," she said.

In the past, Autumn House staff has tried to help women find temporary homes for their four-legged companions. 

"We would scramble around," said Currie. "Sometimes we can find someone in the community who might take the animals, but it wasn't always easy. Now we have a system in place."

Women may delay leaving

Autumn House has partnered with the Amherst Veterinary Hospital and the Lillian Allbon Animal Shelter, along with a handful of volunteer foster families, to offer the service called Safe Pet.

The animal shelter co-ordinates where the animals will be placed, while the veterinary hospital ensures they are in good health when they get to their foster homes. 

Terri McCormick, president of the Lillian Allbon Animal Shelter, said her group wanted to participate in the program because it could help animals and owners get out of an abusive home faster. 

"[The owners] sometimes delay leaving or they don't leave at all," she said. "Even though in those situations, many times the pet is being abused, as well." 

Searching for volunteers

The group has just completed its first successful six-week fostering of a cat belonging to a woman staying at Autumn House. 

"She was ... very, very happy to know that her cat was well taken care of, and that was just something that she didn't have to worry about while she was trying to get back on her feet and starting a new life," said McCormick.

McCormick said the group is seeking more volunteer foster families prepared to take on a six-week commitment to an animal on short notice. 

"Not only are you helping somebody get out of a bad situation and giving them the option that they can leave that situation, they can seek help without having the burden of worrying about their pet," she said. 

People who want to volunteer to foster an animal can reach the animal shelter by calling 902-662-7297. 

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca