A dog fostering service for those fleeing domestic abuse remains fully functional in the face of the Covid-19 social isolation measures as it braces for an expected increase in demand.
The Freedom Project gives victims access to a refuge without fear of what may happen to their dog if it is left behind.
Outreach projects manager at Dogs Trust, Amy Hyde, said: “It is really common that dogs are used as a tool to coerce someone, we see dogs who are physically injured as well as frequently threatened to be killed.
“We want anyone considering their options to know the project will be there for you if you do decide to leave and we will be there to support the pets as well.”
In the past week the Freedom Project has seen a sharp increase in ‘very high-risk’ referrals, which require them to attend immediately, and they expect this trend to continue.
This follows concerning predictions from domestic abuse charities Refuge and Women’s Aid that lockdown could aggravate instances of domestic abuse as victims are forced into isolation with the perpetrator.
This would mirror a significant increase in domestic abuse worldwide as a result of coronavirus movement restrictions, including a threefold increase in Hubei province where Covid-19 originated.
Refuge reported a 25% increase in calls to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline and 150% daily increase in website traffic since the social isolation measures have been in place.
In light of these measures and expected increase of incidents, the Freedom Project has adapted its operations to conform with government advice and is appealing for people to volunteer as foster carers.
The foster carers look after the dogs until the victim can get back on their feet and find accommodation which allows dogs.
Gemma, her son, and her dog Dusty suffered at the hands of her abusive partner for three years before escaping to a refuge and finding the Freedom Project.
As well as physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing Gemma, the abuser kicked, choked and threw things at Dusty, such as shovels and hammers, as well as shooting him with BB guns.
The Freedom Project found Dusty a foster home within 24 hours of Gemma calling and she and her son safely escaped.
Gemma said: “The service is outstanding and it’s because of the Freedom Project that us three amigos – myself, my son, and Dusty – are still together.
“Losing Dusty would have destroyed me – he’s the one who I broke down to and the one who laid beside me every time I cried.
“My life has changed, and so has Dusty’s, and for that we are extremely grateful.”
The Freedom Project, Refuge, and Women’s Aid have all stressed that keeping their services running during this time will save lives.
Due to social distancing measures, the previous in person home checks for prospective foster carers have been replaced with an in-depth video interview and virtual home tour.
They are providing enrichment toys and games for the dogs in addition to ensuring volunteers have a secure garden in case they need to completely self-isolate in the future.
In order to protect high risk groups, the decision has also been made to stop placing new dogs with individuals who are pregnant, have underlying health issues or are over 70 years old.
This is to avoid putting any encouragement on those at-risk groups to leave the house more than necessary, whether that be taking the dog to the vet or going on more walks.
Refuge assures all its services remain open including refuges, 24/7 Freephone Helpline, and community-based services.
Whilst it might not be safe for a victim to call the helpline with the perpetrator still in the home, the helpline can be accessed online or you can request a safe time to be called.
While Dogs Trust is calling out for Freedom Project volunteers, it has suspended applications for general fostering (Home From Home scheme) due to a large influx in applications.
To volunteer as a Freedom Project foster carer, click here.