Pets and Domestic Violence

On Friday night I attended a fundraising dinner for the RSPCA in Queensland. I wrote some thoughts on the RSPCA a month ago (click here to read them), but in short, my experience with them in Qld is that they are quite effective at what they do, and are willing to try some different approaches to help animals (including people).

Last year I spoke in the Senate about one example of a creative and effective program which the RSPCA in Queensland played a big role in establishing. Pets in Crisis is an innovative partnership between the RSPCA and dvconnect (Domestic and Family Violence Service Queensland). Dvconnect provides counsellors and assistance for women and children who want to escape from violent situations and get into a refuge, while the RSPCA finds foster carers who will look after their pets whilst the women and their children are in the shelter waiting for more stable accommodation. In just over 6 months 68 women and children in Qld were evacuated to a refuge and co-jointly utilised the care program for their pets, so there is no doubt there is a need for these kinds of programs. With the financial support of Credit Union Australia, this program now has funds to operate for at least another three years.

Apart from the valuable service it provides in Queensland, it also helps pave the way for similar programs elsewhere. Earlier this year, a women’s refuge on Tasmania’s North West coast received funding from the Tasmanian Community Fund to set up a centre for the pets of people escaping family violence. The Pets Escaping to Safety program provides safe, secure accommodation for pets, giving their owners who need to leave violent domestic situations time to do so and find alternative accommodation without having to worry about their pets’ safety. There is a similar program operating in New South Wales at a local level between the St George hospital social work department and the RSPCA and I’ve heard that there are moves afoot for another one in Melbourne.

US psychologist, Professor Frank Ascione, has done a lot of research over a long period of time highlighting the clear links between violence towards animals and violence towards humans, links between domestic violence towards spouses and children and violence towards animals in the same home. Professor Ascione said that concern for the safety of pets was undoubtedly identified as a major barrier to women and children being able to leave violent domestic situations.

They want to take the pets because often they are the one example, particularly in a child’s life, of unconditional love and leaving the pet behind would be adding extra trauma – especially as the reality is that the pet is quite likely to be mistreated if it is left behind. So people will continue to face the violence, even though they can escape it, rather than leave the animal behind.

The Queensland program is a statewide one and while it is good to see attempts being made to run programs at a local level in various states, it would be even better to see this issue being recognized and addressed on a statewide basis in all states.

Other measures, such as clearer requirements to follow-up reports of animal cruelty discovered by veterinarians and other people who have contact with animals, would help earlier identification of potential violent offenders and increase opportunities for preventative rather than remedial action.

It was good to be able to help support the RSPCA here in Queensland. As well as their well known work running shelters for cats and dogs, they also do lend their support to campaigning on a number of issues, whether it’s the desexing of pets, banning duck shooting or phasing out live exports. However, it is the animal shelter work which occupies a lot of their day to day activities. They are about to shift to bigger facilities in South-East Queensland, having outgrown their current establishment. I’d like to see more effort put into preventing abandonment and abuse of animals, rather than having so much need for dealing with the consequences. A huge slaughter of cats and dogs is carried out at many refuges around Australia, which is all the more distressing because it is so unnecessary. A stronger obligation to desex is one approach, and I also support those who advocate preventing the sale of cats and dogs from pet shops. This would reduce some of the terrible ‘puppy farms’ that are around and also provide a much better prospect of animals in shelters finding new homes (and they can be desexed along the way). This would also save a lot of money for Councils and other bodies having to deal with the consequences of dumped animals and colonies of stray dogs and cats getting established.

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  1. I was quite unaware of this progressive section of the RSPCA–why isnt it more publicised? thks for enlightening me–Furthermore,I believe the high cost of any vet service, particularly desexing, is a contributory problem factor. Is this a flow-on from non-free university study?? I dont buy the notion that only the well off should now own a dog/pet, thats just another’affluent’ standard imposed on the less affluent, abetting societal discontent and angst.The costs involved with kennel boarding are enormous (probably due to the set-up costs imposed by regulation) causing people to leave their pets with relatives-friends who can lose them.

    Another factor regarding strays is the fact that the modern dog is a prisoner, no longer knows its way around,isnt streetwise, and is often socially inept when it suddenly finds itself loose-(a gate left open by a thoughtless visitor). These factors make my owning a dog (and I always prefer to obtain a stray)a more worrisome, watchful activity compared to times past.

    Re domestic violence- Have known more beaten up women than men in ‘relationship’ scenarios. Most men can also hit harder. It’s also the women who most often see to the family pet, and can be more perceptive of a pets early changes in health status..I’m weary of some notions of sexism, racism, feminism etc preventing meaningful exchange of views and facts regarding problematical issues/situations.

  2. Thanks for supporting this program Andrew.
    It has been a valuable one for Queensland and thanks in no small part to you, has gained some great recognition, winning a Qld State Govt Domestic Violence Prevention Award for an outstanding Partership this week during Domestic Violence Prevention Month.

    DVCONNECT Domestic & Family Violence Service Qld ( ) exists to increase the safety and reduce the incidence and effects of family violence for all Queenslanders.

    We understand DOmestic Violence is a complex and difficult experience, and all Queensland Men and Women affected by domestic and family violence can access our counselling and support services through DVConnect Womensline 1800 811 811 and DVConnect Mensline 1800 600 636.

    Relationships where domestic violence is experienced range from the situationally dysfunctional to the critically dangerous.

    I think most people would be appalled to hear what happens in some of these situations.

    IN Queensland alone we are putting over 220 women and kids in refuges every month, and providing crisis counselling and support to around 70 women a day. SOme of the ways pets have been used as leverage to gain control over women from leaving or disclosing abuse would sicken anyone.

    We have been very fortunate that RSPCA Qld has chosen to partner with us to bring this hidden issue to the fore. We commend them for their support and conviction!

    Not sure if i can mention this, so feel free to delete if this is inappropriate, but just thought i’d menton we are currently running an appeal for support to continue with this and other similarly valuable projects. If anyone wishes to make a tax deductable donation online please visit or send a cheque to DVCONNECT P.O.Box 10575, Adelaide st, Brisbane 4000

    Kind regards

  3. I think this assistance in caring for pets until they can be collected again is a wonderful and humane provision for families in crisis. It can be too much to bear to leave one’s pets behind, try to give them away,or have them put down. Thank you all concerned.

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