LIVING in an abusive or violent household is hell.

The constant worry and the terror over what’s coming next from a controlling or coercive partner takes its toll.

But abuse isn’t limited to humans.

Sometimes, pets can be badly affected, too.

Dogs Trust - which has a base in Basildon - says almost nine in ten professionals helping domestic abuse victims in Essex have seen cases where a pet has also been targeted.

Even more shocking, almost half (47 per cent) have seen domestic abuse cases where a pet has been killed by the perpetrator.

The figures have been released ahead of the 15th anniversary of the charity’s Freedom Project, supporting people fleeing domestic abuse by providing temporary accommodation for their dogs.

The Freedom Project provides foster homes for dogs which enables survivors to access safe accommodation without the fear of what may happen to their dog if left behind.

Dogs Trust offers this service as many refuges are unable to accept dogs.

This important service gives pet owners the opportunity to escape abuse, safe in the knowledge that their dogs will also be safe and well cared for.

Louise Gostling, 29, Dogs Trust Freedom Project co-ordinator for Essex said: “Alongside suffering physical abuse, we know that dogs are also often used by perpetrators as a means to coerce and control their partners.

“This is incredibly frightening for survivors and can range from perpetrators stopping their partner from accessing vet care for their dogs or spending money on dog food, through to repeatedly threatening to harm, kill or ‘get rid’ of their dogs.

“As many refuges are unable to accept pets, survivors are understandably concerned about their dog’s safety when they need to escape.

“Over the last year alone the demand on our services in Essex has more than doubled which is why we have recently expanded our Freedom Project nationally to support even more survivors and their pets from abuse.

“We urgently need more foster carers in Essex so that we can continue this life-saving work.”

A number of anonymous domestic abuse sufferers, who also own dogs, have spoken out about the support and help of the project.

One woman said: “I was married for several years until I was able to leave.

“I would have left him the day after we got married if I had known about the Freedom Project.

“When I found out about the project, I finally felt like there was a way out as I was so scared of leaving my dog Maggie with him to continue being abused.

“It was so difficult to leave but once I did, I knew I had to get Maggie to safety too.

“I felt completely supported by the Freedom Team while Maggie was in foster care.

“I loved the photos and have kept them all, the feeling of knowing she was safe was just immeasurable and meant so much.

“Words can’t explain how good it was to be reunited with Maggie.

“It was the best day of my life.

“She is still getting over some of the abuse she suffered but we are getting there and are moving on with our lives.”

Another dog owner who used the service said it was a great comfort.

The survivor said: “I accessed the Freedom Project after fleeing an abusive relationship which I was in for five-and-a-half years.

“I experienced more mental abuse rather than physical.

“During our relationship he would threaten me, and he also threatened to bury my dog Dexter.

“I found out about the Freedom Project through the council, I was so pleased they told me as I wouldn’t have known about the project otherwise.

“Having a dog definitely made it harder for me to leave.

“I had thought about leaving before but didn’t end up making any plans at that time as I didn’t have anywhere for Dexter to go and I didn’t want to leave him behind.

“Whilst Dexter was in foster care, I felt very supported by the Freedom team and loved the photos and updates that they sent every month. I had really hoped we would be reunited in time for Christmas, but I was still waiting for housing.

“I can’t even explain how it felt to be reunited with Dexter.”