11/12/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 11/12/2015 05:59 EST

Alberta Animal Shelters Help Abuse Victims Who Want To Protect Their Pets

Sadly, family violence can be even harder for victims to escape when pets are involved.

Solovyova via Getty Images
Woman and her favorite dog portrait

Even when faced with serious harm, many victims of domestic violence find it difficult to flee their homes because they're worried about their pets.

But a partnership between some of Alberta's animal rescue groups has been trying remove that barrier by offering emergency boarding services for pets belonging to people fleeing abuse.

As November marks family violence prevention month in Alberta, the issue remains dire. The province has the second highest rate of self-reported spousal violence in Canada, according to the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association.

In 2014-2015, nearly 10,000 women and children were housed in emergency shelters, the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters reports. Another 18,000 were turned away, due to shelters being over capacity.

A survey from the Alberta SPCA found that almost two-thirds of abused women surveyed in Alberta said they delayed leaving a dangerous situation because they were worried about their pets.

"They're all I have left and even though I missed them I'm so happy that I was able to put them somewhere safe."

More alarming, 36 per cent of respondents said their abuser threatened or harmed their animals — and 84 per cent of those threats were carried out.

The 2012 study talked to nearly 300 women in shelters around Alberta. One victim said her partner told her, "If you leave it here, your dog will be dead." Another woman who left an abusive situation found that her cats had all been poisoned.

To relieve that worry about leaving pets behind, the Alberta SPCA, Calgary Humane Society and Red Deer SPCA created a program that takes care of pets for a short term (usually 21 days) at no cost to the owner.

Pets are given veterinary checkups and vaccinations, and owners can call to find out how the animals are doing. Under the program, the shelter will release the pets only to their owners, whose identities are kept confidential.

"I'm so grateful for this program because I got to keep my pets. They're all I have left and even though I missed them I'm so happy that I was able to put them somewhere safe," wrote one client.

Follow Us On Twitter

Also on HuffPost:

Photo gallery Domestic Violence In Alberta See Gallery