Owen Sharp, Dogs Trust CEO, tackles the topic of domestic abuse at Christmas and its impact on animals

For most of us, Christmas is a time to take a much-needed break from the stresses and demands of everyday life, as we leave thoughts of work behind and enjoy the warmth of home and family. 

As I look forward to some precious time relaxing at home and my second Christmas with whippet-saluki cross and best mate Lexi, who I adopted from my local Dogs Trust centre last year, I can’t help but think of the people and dogs for whom home will be far from a cosy haven over the festive period. 

Dogs Trust recently released results of research carried out by Refuge4Pets, who we work in collaboration with, showing the horrifying scale of maltreatment of pets in domestic abuse cases. 

Domestic abuse is terrifying and isolating enough but, in many cases, people also suffer the additional horror of their perpetrator targeting – and sometimes even murdering – a beloved pet, as part of their campaign of control. 

I have worked at Dogs Trust for two years and I have previously worked in the Criminal Justice System to support victims of crime, but I was shocked by the scale of problem. Of those researched, around nine in 10 households suffering from domestic abuse said that animals were also abused.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given we released the figures to mark the milestone of 2,000 dogs fostered through our Freedom Project, which supports people escaping domestic abuse by temporarily placing dogs with a volunteer foster carer until they can safely be reunited. 

It is virtually impossible to access refuge services or safe accommodation that can take dogs and, without the support of the Freedom Project, we know that many people suffering domestic abuse will stay in dangerous situations rather than leave their beloved animals behind. The Freedom Project is literally a lifeline for thousands of people and their dogs, and I could not be prouder of the work that it does. 

Sadly, demand for our Freedom Project services has escalated over the last couple of years, as incidents of domestic abuse have soared. There are fears that incidents of domestic abuse will increase over the Christmas period as people spend more time with abusive partners, and this is exacerbated further by the current pandemic restrictions. 

Living in such uncertain times, we must be ready to support owners and dogs in need - and you can be sure that our hard-working teams at Dogs Trust will continue their excellent work over Christmas and into the New Year, helping people and their dogs to escape unthinkable situations. 

Our female-led teams are highly skilled in helping people and their dogs to reach safety and find their freedom. So, if you’re able to give some time as a volunteer, or if you need help yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us. Nobody - and no dogs - should suffer alone this Christmas.