For several years, the Kelowna branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has teamed up with women's shelters in the city to provide housing for pets of people fleeing domestic violence.
With evidence showing an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, the partnership is proving to be more important than ever, staff at the organizations say.
"That's a priceless partnership that we have with animal shelters, because they also recognize the high correlation between animal abuse and domestic abuse," said Allison Mclauchlan, executive director of the Kelowna Women's Shelter.
"Our animals and pets are part of the family. It's not a huge leap to understand why women would not leave them behind to be further abused or even killed."
Sean Hogan, manager of the Kelowna SPCA, said leaving a domestic abuse situation can be even more complicated when there are pets involved.
Even once the decision to leave has been made, there are many logistics involved when including a pet, he said.
"Having the resources of agencies working together … has made it much more possible for us to get in and help that situation right when it's needed," he said.
Hogan added that pets may end up in foster care if the length of stay is longer than a few weeks.
Advocates and professionals have long established a link between domestic abuse and pet abuse.
In tandem with the increase in reports of domestic abuse during the pandemic, the SPCA says it has fielded more calls alleging animal cruelty since early 2020.
Shawn Eccles, senior manager of cruelty investigations with the B.C. SPCA, said there were 631 calls alleging animal cruelty from January to September 2019. In the same time period in 2020 there were 778, and 712 in 2021, he said.
"There's no doubt that there's a link between domestic violence and animal abuse — we've known that for years," said Eccles, who surmised that isolation might be a reason for the increase during the pandemic.
Mclauchlan said while her shelter has seen an increase in severity and incidences of domestic abuse since the start of the pandemic, in most cases the pandemic did not create abuse that wasn't already present — but isolation has worsened it.
Support is available for those experiencing domestic violence. Call VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808. This is a toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available across B.C. and the Yukon 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For TTY access, call 604-875-0885.