Dogs Trust’s Freedom Project: How fostering a dog could help save a life

[Trigger warning: domestic violence]

In March 2008, I rocked up to a large, busy office in Islington for an interview with a dog charity. I’m a self-confessed cat person, but I really wanted to work for a non-profit and the role had loads of potential. I have no notion of how long it takes to get anywhere, plus a paranoid neurosis about being late, so I turned up about 45 minutes early. (This is not a recommended interview technique, and I should have holed up in Starbucks, but that’s by the by). I decided that there’s never such a thing as too much research, so I picked up an annual review from a heap on the table in reception.

That’s where I learned about the Freedom Project.

Dogs Trust, where I went on to spend four and half incredibly happy years, has always been clear on its core activity: rehoming dogs. But it has a number of other projects, and two outreach activities in particular, that reach much further than most people expect of an animal charity. The charity’s single-minded devotion to making life better for dogs extends, quite rightly, to making it better for owners, too.

The Freedom Project is a fostering service with a very specific goal. It takes dogs from families fleeing violence at home and finds them temporary homes (usually for 3-9 months); meanwhile, the family in question are helped by other services such as Refuge to escape to a safe space. Once they’re settled, their pets come home to them. Veterinary and food costs are covered by Dogs Trust – the foster carer just has to provide a little bit of love, security and day-to-day care. Dogs Trust and Refuge, plus a number of other groups from the RSPCA to the NSPCC, are members of the Links Group, which works to understand the relationships between the abuse of vulnerable adults, children and animals in order to inform the work of the many organisations working to prevent this and assist survivors.

The evidence is growing that abuse of animals and abuse of people are closely interlinked. It’s not immediately obvious to most people – me included – that someone might be partially prevented from escaping a violent home through fear of what will happen to a pet. Quite often, pets are an enormous source of solace, and the thought of them being left at the mercy of a violent individual is understandably terrifying. There can be substantial guilt involved, and projects like this can help break down one of the many – complex and varied – barriers holding someone in a cycle of violence and terror.

The project is not UK-wide, though there are other fostering services you can find out more about. Due to the resources available it operates in Greater London, Hertfordshire and Yorkshire at present (with assistance from Cats Protection in London who organise cat fostering). This week, Dogs Trust is committing its social media presence to drawing attention to the scheme and to raising funds. Here’s what you can do:

Anyone who needs further advice on these issues can also call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (24 hours a day) on 0808 2000 247.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. While we aim for that essential result which cannot come fast enough, this is just one way of supporting women and children. If you prefer not to give to animal charities, then please note that the annual Refuge John Lewis Christmas List is now live.

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