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Ugur Nedim draws light upon an often forgotten issue in domestic violence cases – the welfare of household pets.
The issue of domestic violence has been making headlines of late, with many calling for increased funding for women’s shelters and community support services. In the midst of all the media attention, we often forget about what happens to household pets in these situations.
Now, the Victorian Government is proposing to provide funding to support pets of those fleeing domestic violence.
Some may roll their eyes at the thought of animals receiving funding in these situations – particularly when so many women’s shelters have been forced to close their doors due to funding cuts, but community organisations say that funding for pets is vital, with many concerned that those affected by domestic violence are making the decision to remain in dangerous situations simply to care for their pets.
A recent survey found that 40% of respondents in domestic violence situations had delayed leaving an abusive relationship for up to three months because they were concerned about the welfare of a pet. A study by the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also found that in some cases, perpetrators of domestic violence may become jealous of the bond between their partner and their pet and may inflict violence on the pet as a means of exercising control in the relationship, with animals being beaten and killed in some serious cases. RSPCA and Animal Welfare officers investigating animal cruelty have also suggested a correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse.
Shelters across the country are often hesitant to take in animals, meaning that pets who are left behind in these situations are often put down.
The Victorian Government has proposed providing $100,000 across four years to fund protection programs for pets of those fleeing domestic violence.
The program will be implemented across the state by Safe Steps; a family violence support service. Safe Steps intends to work alongside animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA to provide crisis accommodation while owners rebuild their lives.
Currently, Animal Aid in Victoria provides shelter for pets of women escaping domestic violence through its Pets in Peril service.
However, the program is not government-funded and relies solely on public donations. The service accepts referrals from police, women’s refuges and family support services and works with local vets to provide boarding solutions for affected animals. In New South Wales, the RSPCA runs the Safe Beds for Pets program, which similarly provides temporary housing for pets in emergency situations.
The Safe Steps initiative was inspired by overseas programs such as the Pet’s Project in England, which places animals of domestic violence victims with foster families until their owners are able to care for them again. A similar program exists within the United States, which “provides immediate emergency shelter for any animal belonging to any woman or family in crisis as a result of family violence.” Despite Victoria’s recent efforts, Australia still has a long way to go before it will catch up to overseas pet support programs.
A paper presented by Judy Johnson of the Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service suggests that every Australian state should have its own domestic violence assistance program for pets, facilitated by animal shelters.
She also recommends more research be done on the link between family and animal violence so that collaborative efforts can be made to tackle both issues together, but with shelters across the country feeling the strain of the government’s funding cuts, it is uncertain whether any of these recommendations will eventuate.