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  • Karagh-Mae Kelly

Women Are Struggling To Keep Their Pets Safe When Escaping Domestic Violence

**This article discusses domestic violence. If this story is triggering please contact 1800 RESPECT**

The link between animal cruelty and Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is well researched

and yet continues to be an area within the DFV and animal rescue sector that is left behind

and sometimes ignored completely.

As a former RSPCA Inspector and former candidate for the Animal Justice Party this has

been an important political platform for me personally.

As an Inspector, I have witnessed the links that are obvious when investigating certain cruelty cases and I have felt the frustration when I haven’t been able to offer assistance that would assist both the woman, kids and pets.

In 2005 the RSPCA felt the same and partnered with DV Connect to provide emergency care

for pets fleeing domestic and family violence.

The Pets in Crisis program aims to provide on average 30 days of care (either at a RSPCA or with a trained foster carer).

This program no doubt offers a tremendous service and the announcement over the weekend by Shannon Fentiman that Queensland Labor will be nearly doubling their funding to the program is most welcome and definitely needed.

Both Fentiman and RSPCA stated that this additional funding would secure more spots for

pets in the system and assist with vet costs.

DV Connect CEO Beck O'Connor and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman. Source: Michael Lloyd

I do wonder what more could be done.

I have sat on two DFV boards where I have implemented foster programs for pets.

And based on the feedback I've heard from women coming into refuges, there are still hurdles preventing people from escaping violent homes.

  • For many just getting to the RSPCA with their pet is near impossible - those escaping DFV normally have to use public transport which doesn’t allow pets.

  • Women find great comfort in their pets and the idea of being separated from them during a major life change can be daunting and off putting - research shows that having pets around lowers stress and offers comfort for those going through trauma.

  • The animals do better with their humans - they too are experiencing trauma and separation from their owner can lead to their own anxiety and stress.

  • The 30 days offered by the Pets in Crisis program is usually not long enough for a woman to find a place of her own that allows pets, especially now during the rental crisis.

The statistics around pets in DFV situations are horrifying and have continued to rise so is it

time to look more holistically at the issue of DFV.

Here are some facts before we delve into what appropriate care of human and animal victims could look like.

  • 70% of women fleeing DFV also report animal abuse.

  • 68% of women experiencing DFV failed or delayed leaving their partner if a companion animal had already been abused.

  • Nearly 25% of victims will return as their abuser is using the pet as a means of getting them back.

There has been a call from leading academics and some law enforcement agencies that

abuse of animals should be subsumed under the umbrella of DFV, particularly in Australia where it is estimated that companion animals are present in 70% of cases where DFV occurs.

This shows clearly that this is a co-existing problem and as such provides a strong case for

providing different avenues for the care and welfare of both human and animal victims.

Is there a solution that is not only achievable but something that we should be pushing in our Government to invest in now? Yes!

NSW now has a few refuges that cater to women, kids and their pets.

These refuges have also partnered with local vets to provide low cost care and a major pet food companies to assist with feeding.

CEO of West Connect Domestic Violence Services, Catherine Gander, understands that animals are being murdered when victims have left and that the connection between victims and their pets needs to be taken into account.

Gander definitely agrees that this is the way forward in refuges

Unfortunately, Queensland has no Government funded refuges that allows pets.

When building a new refuge or engaging with DFV organisations during the tender process this should be one of the key elements.

We should be funding DFV organisations that do provide private foster programs.

If we are to encourage victims to flee at the first sign of coercive control we need to have more options for them to do that with the things that matter most; kids and pets.

The organisations that do run private foster care usually receive no funding and run on the

donations of sponsors and in some cases private vets which provide urgent care.

The bigger picture requires changes to legislation and a full approach to DFV.

Companion animals remain property under the law - if we are to take seriously the

links between DFV and animal cruelty we need to amend this.

Ownership of pets is used as a coercive control method and victims can be made to change ownership of the animal under council laws, vet records etc so that they lose the ability to leave with them.

If the victim leaves with the animal and technically it is registered to the offender the offender can and does report the pet as stolen property.

Magistrates also need specific training in the links between animal cruelty and DFV so

that animal offenders are sentenced accordingly and the animals are legally placed and handed over to the victim (if required/wanted).

Research shows having pets around lowers stress and offers comfort for those going through trauma. Source: Canva

In addition we need a national animal offender list, this has been spoken about throughout enforcement agencies for years.

It has been deemed a waste of time while offenders are let off easily but if we make a commitment to sentencing appropriately this offender list would assist victims of DFV and agencies within the sector in proving coercive control, abuse, threats and violence.

Compulsory violence prevention programs should also be introduced in school that include animals as victims of DFV.

Most importantly we need to find out what is working elsewhere and why it is working.

The Red Rover Organisation in the USA provides phenomenal funding and options for victims and their animals.

They are statistic based and their programs could easily provide a template for us

closer to home.

Safe Pets Safe Families for example provides life saving boarding and foster care for animal fleeing DFV with their humans.

They have educations programs as well and a tried and tested model.

As a community we should applaud Labor's announcement for doubling the funding for the Pets in Crisis program, however, we need our Government to look wider.

To find the gaps.

To read the studies.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect funding to be given to different organisations doing sensational work in the sector of keeping human and animal victims of DFV safe.

Until our animals are viewed as family under the law we will continue to see women stay in DFV situations.


If you or anyone you know needs help please contact:

  • 1800 RESPECT national helpline: 1800 737 732

  • Mens Referral Service: 1300 766 491

  • Lifeline (24-hour crisis line): 131 114

  • Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277


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