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.