Jane and Rachel's Story
"He was our best friend. He couldn't protect us but he buffered things for us."
Hear from two incredibly brave women who shared their personal experience of family violence with their beloved dogs on The Project.
Emma's husband would emotionally and physically abuse her and her two dogs.They were the only source of comfort and protection in her violent home.
"Every time I tried to leave he'd threatened to kill my babies and I couldn't do that to them so I had to stay - they were the only things keeping me alive."
"My pets are my world, they are part of the family and there's just no way I'd leave them there to get hurt."
"My partner was a lot older than me, and really controlling. The dog was used manipulatively on me. He’d get jealous that I had this bond with the dog, because of everything she’d been through with me. I wasn’t allowed to have comfort.
He knew I couldn’t take her with me if I wanted to leave. Finding a rental with an animal was really hard. I felt like as a decent human being I needed to stay there to protect her, so I was the one who suffered. If I did leave, I just kept going back to the dog, and this really toxic relationship."
He convinced her she wasn't worth anything, that if she left him she would have nothing - she'd lose her home, business and everything else important to her.
And then there was Gremlin, her dog.
"I'd had Gremlin for such a long time and I wasn't going to part with her, I would sooner stay and put up with all the crap that was going on as long as she was with me and safe. If there was a safe place I could have taken Gremlin I would have gone sooner."
“He wanted to destroy everything that I loved and that included my pets,” tells domestic violence survivor Sarah*, 42, who’ll never forget cradling her dying cat in her arms after a particularly callous incident.
Her then-husband –who subjected Sarah and their children to almost two decades of physical and emotional abuse – couldn’t stand how much his wife adored her little tortoiseshell cat.
"You feel extremely powerless and distraught, just knowing there's nothing you can do to help your pets who are actually a family member.
"Pets are part of the family, it would just be amazing for the children to have a place to keep them safe - I know I would have been so overwhelmed at the thought that my pets were safe and out of harm's way, but also that we could be reunited.”
"I'm not your stereotypical victim of domestic violence. I'm white. I'm well off. But abuse doesn't discriminate. And sometimes they can hide it more easily when they're dressed in a suit and a tie.
When you imagine leaving, you're thinking "What's going to happen with the kids? Where are we going to go? What about the animals? How am I going to take the cat and the dog and the kids? How am I going to pack them all up? I can't. But if I leave the pets, who will feed them? Will he kill them like he's threatened to?"
"[This has] definitely bought back parts of my childhood.
Mum spent years planning her escape.
If there was a shelter she could have sent her dog to temporarily, I know it would have been part of the plan. Maybe her dog could have been saved before it was too late. I know plenty of other families will want to use Pet Refuge."
"I hope Pet Refuge means other children don't experience what I did. I can see now that I was just a child, and the blame lies with him, but I have spent three decades blaming myself.
The trauma has never left me.I still cry about it when I think of Hope's death, and I am 46 now. I've still got a photo of her. She didn't deserve that."
Opinion piece: Pets are not immune from surging family violence.
"He’d lash out at the dog, and Jem would whimper with that look in his eyes of, “Why did you do that? What did I do?
My abuse was mostly mental.
It’s the mental scars that make it really hard for women to get out, because there’s just no strength. There’s no fight left. You think you’re useless and you’re hopeless - and that’s how they make you stay.
I’ve been thinking about the hopelessness that women in violent situations must be feeling in lockdown. You add money worries, noisy kids at home, and nowhere to go and they’re going to bear the brunt of all that."
"It’s only because I love my cats that much that I reached out and told my dad. They were like children to me. So when my husband threatened to kill them, that was the moment I knew I had to do something. It was beyond anything I could bear any more. My dad said, “If he’s threatening the cats, what’s he doing to you, honey?” And I told him everything."
"I call myself a survivor and a warrior, because I did fight back in the end. I got out. I’m proud of myself. I felt like I was ugly, and fat and not desirable. Now I get told every day I’m beautiful - by my cat, you know, with her eyes!"
If you are wanting help now, call the Women’s Refuge crisis line on 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843.
If you are in immediate danger please call 111.