Scottish SPCA helps humans and animals impacted by domestic abuse

The Scottish SPCA has revived its pioneering First Strike campaign to help humans – and animals – affected by domestic abuse.
Sad Sam...SSPCA feels the time is now right to revisit First Strike, which first established the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.  (Pic: SSPCA)Sad Sam...SSPCA feels the time is now right to revisit First Strike, which first established the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.  (Pic: SSPCA)
Sad Sam...SSPCA feels the time is now right to revisit First Strike, which first established the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. (Pic: SSPCA)

Scotland’s animal welfare charity first introduced the campaign in 1998 to highlight the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.

At that time, it was not a common association so one of the first steps was convincing the veterinary profession.

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First Strike was then adopted by The Links Group which consists of medical professionals, veterinary surgeons, police, social workers and animal welfare organisations. The link is now widely recognised.

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, the SSPCA’s head of education, policy and research, said: “The re-launch of our First Strike campaign reaffirms our commitment to helping people and animals who are victims of domestic violence.

“The nature of our work means we often enter situations where domestic violence is a problem and, in our experience, animals can often be the forgotten victims.

Pets can be exploited as a form of control by an abuser and be beaten or mistreated.

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“There is real concern the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic has put those who were already being abused at even greater risk, confining them to a home with their abuser.

“We are determined to help people and their pets who are in that situation.”

The SSPCA is a global leader in highlighting the link between cruelty towards animals at a young age potentially leading to violence and other serious crimes as an adult.

The society’s ground-breaking Animal Guardians programme works with young people across Scotland who have hurt animals or are displaying behaviours towards animals which are a cause of concern.

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Since its launch, the SSPCA has received referrals for more than 100 children to the scheme.

In partnership with the University of Edinburgh, a soon-to-be published in-depth study focused on ten children – aged between five and 12 – who participated in Animal Guardians.

Two of the participants had sadly killed an animal while four had harmed an animal and another four were assessed as at-risk of harming an animal.

PhD Student Laura Wauthier said: “All ten children were interviewed and three key themes emerged: the emotional bonds many children formed with animals, the normalisation of violence in their lives and signs of unresolved trauma or emotional issues.

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“Largely, the children participating understood animals had their own feelings and emotions and perceived violence towards animals to be just as bad, if not worse, as violence towards humans.

“Many of the children struggled to acknowledge their own acts of cruelty and this conflicted with their positive perception of animals and attachment to their pets. Many said their acts of cruelty were triggered by an animal’s bad behaviour or by lashing out due to being angry themselves.”

Professor Jo Williams, director of the Centre for Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said there was a trend of violence being normalised in the lives of the children who took part.

She added: “Some recounted violence towards animals carried out by other members of their household, suggesting their own acts of cruelty may be learned behaviours.

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“Many children taking part had a negative view of themselves and struggled to control their behaviour.”

It is the first UK study to speak directly to children involved in harming animals in order to understand their perspectives.

The First Strike campaign aims to raise awareness and keep people and pets safe.

Gilly added: “It is well known that many factors can negatively impact a child’s behaviour which includes growing up in an abusive household, in an environment where violence is commonplace.

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“Sadly, this can lead to animals becoming hurt, both intentionally and unintentionally, and should be seen as an early warning sign that a child and household needs help.

“We are calling on all agencies that work in our local communities to recognise this link.”

Anyone in an abusive relationship who is concerned about their own or their pets well-being should contact the SSPCA’s confidential helpline on 03000 999 999. It is open from 7am to 9pm every day.

You can offer hope to animals

The Scottish SPCA is Scotland’s animal welfare charity and is wholly separate from the RSPCA, which only works in England and Wales.

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A registered charity, it receives no government funding and relies on generous support from the public to carry out its vital work.

This includes the SSPCA animal helpline, which can be reached on 03000 999 999 and is open from 7am until 9pm every single day.

The SSPCA does not put healthy animals to sleep but instead looks after them at its rehoming centres across the country and wildlife centre at Fishcross.

Staff rescue domestic and wild animals and nurse them back to health before finding them loving new homes or releasing them back into the wild.

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The charity also investigates cases of abuse across Scotland and is at the forefront of preventing cruelty to animals.

To receive seasonal information about how you can help wildlife thrive, along with useful tips on how to look after pets and top news stories, you can sign up for the SSPCA’s monthly newsletter at

While there, perhaps you could consider helping the charity.

Due to coronavirus,the SSPCA faces the prospect of losing up to 20 per cent of its annual income in 2020. However, it is still rescuing animals every single day. You can help save animals by pledging to become a monthly SSPCA supporter or making a one-off donation.

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A spokesman said: “As Scotland’s emergency service for animals, we’re responding to more than 140 reports of animals in need every day throughout the pandemic.

“For just £5 a month, you can give hope to animals and make a real difference.”

To find out more, visit