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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Animals can be silent victims of domestic abuse

GLENN COOK St. Albert Leader

For many people, pets are like family. Unfortunately, that means they also sometimes become victims of family violence. But, for more than 20 years, Paradise Pet Centre and the Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society in St. Albert have teamed up to help furry friends find refuge from abusive situations. SAIF executive director Doreen Slessor said animals getting caught in the middle of abuse is a situation she has seen often over the years, but that’s why partnerships like the one with Paradise are so important. “They’re one of our biggest and best corporate partners in the community,� Slessor said. Adrian Theroux is the general manager of Paradise Pet Centre, and has worked there since 1994. He said the partnership has been in place for as long as he has worked there. “There are a lot of families that are involved with the store. Animals are a big part of family development, teaching kids responsibility and so forth. But on the other hand, they can be used as a tool by someone in an abusive situation,� he said.

“What SAIF stands for, we agree with, and we want to support them.� Most of the store’s support is monetary. When classes come in for field trips, there is a fee, but 100 per cent of that is donated to SAIF. They have also done other fundraisers and raffles, like one held recently where customers could guess the gender Spike, the store’s grey parrot mascot. If space in the store permits, Paradise has occasionally boarded small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits for people looking to get out of an abusive situation. “There aren’t a lot (of situations) where we can get right in there and help out; it’s mostly fundraising,� Theroux said. According to Slessor, pets sometimes become the first victims of domestic abuse. “Abusing the pets can be used as a power and control tactic by the abuser to show what they can do, what they’re able to do or what they will do,� she said. Pets can also become a barrier to leaving an abusive situation. According to a report by the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 59 per cent of abused women who had animals delayed leaving out of concern for their animals. “So many times we see at the SAIF Society, people say, ‘What about the dog?’ or ‘We’re not going to leave because the kids need their cat,’� Slessor said. “It’s a

huge factor in family violence. They’re the victims that can’t speak out for themselves.â€? Some of the stories that Slessor and Theroux have heard over the years are just heartbreaking — interviews in the Alberta SPCA report tell of cats being poisoned and choked, and dogs dying when women leave. But those interviews also tell of the strength and sympathy pets can provide to keep people going. “It just speaks to the bond people can have with their pets. ‌ Without animals in people’s lives, where would they be?â€? Theroux said. However, changes to provincial legislation mean that hopefully those heartbreaking stories will not need to be told so often. Pets can now be included in restraining orders and emergency protection orders as a way to get them and their human companions out of bad situations. “To be able to recognize a pet as a member of the family ‌ if you’re able to keep your pet safe, that’s another obstacle you don’t have to overcome in the whole process,â€? Slessor said. “Any way we can give more assistance to the people we work with, the more tricks we have in our tickle trunk, the more successful the families that are experience domestic violence are going to be.â€?

Photo: GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader

Paisley, a three-month-old lab cross, was up for adoption last week at Paradise Pet Centre in St. Albert. The store has been partnering with the Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society for many years now to help get animals out of domestic abuse situations.

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St. Albert Leader March 6, 2014  
St. Albert Leader March 6, 2014  

St. Albert Leader March 6, 2014

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