Threats to pets ‘key sign of an abusive partner’

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Police are now helping victims who stay with an abusive partner because they fear for the safety of their dog.

They have joined forces with a dog shelter charity and have been trained to identify and support women who fear the family pet will be killed or injured if they leave.

One victim, Kara Ewen, 26, told how she endured six years of serious violence and mental abuse after her partner, who has since been jailed, threatened to kill their pet dog if she left him.

Mark McLeod, from Dundee, had given Kara the West Highland terrier, named Hobo, as a present after beating her. But he soon used the dog in an attempt to stop her leaving.

Now that she is safe from McLeod’s violence, Ewen lives with the guilt of not knowing if Hobo is alive or dead.

She said: “He knew how much I loved animals, so Hobo was the perfect gift, something he could use as a weapon to keep me in line.”

Three out of four pet-owning abuse victims say their partners have threatened or hurt their animals in an attempt to bully and control them.

However, new laws in Scotland outlaw psychological abuse and Police Scotland and charity Dogs Trust are working together to give their pets refuge if their owners want to flee an abusive partner.

From this month, an abuser using threats or violence to control a partner will face jail and police now recognise violence towards animals in a household is a key indicator of serious domestic abuse.

Police Scotland have invested in extra training for 14,000 officers as well as joining forces with Dogs Trust. The head of the force’s specialist Domestic Abuse Task Force, detective superintendent Gordon McCreadie, said the initiatives will help curb the abuse and threats endured by women like Kara.

DS McCreadie said: “To his victims, Mark McLeod was a monster. To us, he was one of the worst of the worst.

“It was time Scotland recognised the way abusers like him operated and sought control.

“He used the threats of disappearance of pets as a way of seizing control over a number of his victims, and it’s every bit as despicable as some of the other behaviours he displayed.

“McLeod is not alone in this. We’ve seen pets stabbed, killed, or hung from trees.

“A mother may want to flee an abusive relationship, but the worry about what will happen to a beloved family pet if its left behind can make them stay rather than upset their children further. Abusers like McLeod make full use of this.

“We are delighted the new act makes threats like this a crime, and that we have been able to establish working relationships with several partners so that we can provide support and also somewhere safe for the pets to go until they
can be reunited with their
family.”

DS McCreadie urged everyone to be on the look-out for signs of abuse.

He said: “Sometimes the earliest signs of an abusive relationship can be seen through the dog brought to a vet with a broken leg.

“We ask vets or dog walkers to be aware to that possibility if they encounter a story that doesn’t add up, or an injury that has been caused by a deliberate twist rather than fall, perhaps there’s a victim or family experiencing abuse.”