Evidence shows perpetrators of domestic violence often threaten to harm family pets as a way to control their victims. This prevents people from leaving abusive family environments and seeking support from agencies. In response, RSPCA South Australia established the Safe Kennels Project to provide emergency accommodation for the pets of people affected by domestic violence. But the extent of demand means only half of the requests received can currently be accommodated. ”
The CEO of RSPCA South Australia, Tim Vasudeva comments, “We care for their pets at no cost to the owner, which allows them to remove themselves from risk and access the help and support they personally need. We’ve seen a significant increase in the demand for our Safe Kennels support program in recent years. Regrettably, it’s a demand we cannot currently meet unless we significantly expand the program.
Research from Europe, the US, Canada, the UK and Australia demonstrates that between 50–85% of women in violent relationships who also live with companion animals delay leaving, or remain in, those relationships through fear for their animals’ well-being. Fraser, H., & Taylor, N. (2016). Neoliberalization, Universities and the Public Intellectual, (pp. 61-83).
A unique program
Currently, RSPCA South Australia’s Safe Kennels program is unique in South Australia. Very few support agencies, shelters and treatment facilities catering for at-risk individuals also cater for pets.
“Companion animals provide comfort and a safe diversion for children living in difficult family situations. What is truly heartbreaking is for these children to witness threats and actual abuse being inflicted upon their beloved pets,” says Tim.
“Last year, the Safe Kennels program provided care for more than 200 animals - predominantly cats, dogs and birds. The average length of stay for animals in the Safe Kennels program is 100 days. These animals are accommodated either within secure facilities at our Lonsdale shelter, or in foster care homes out in the community.”
Caitriona Fay, National Manager of Philanthropy at Perpetual says even donors who may see themselves as ‘animal funders’ can play a critical role in reducing domestic violence in Australia. “We know that on average, one woman is killed every week in Australia as a result of intimate partner violence. Reducing any barrier a woman may have to accessing safe and alternative accommodation is vital and rehousing animals is clearly one initiative that can help,” says Caitriona.
Making difficult decisions
One of the most challenging aspects of the program is deciding who receives support given the capacity constraints. Every request for assistance is individually assessed based on a number of factors and the severity or urgency of the need is critical in prioritising requests.
“Our referrals all come from domestic violence support agencies, who are usually able to provide enough information for us to assess in detail the urgency associated with each case,” says Tim.
Photo by Carol Gibbons Photography
“We are determined to meet the commitments we make to people in need, and do everything we can to keep animals in care while their owners get the help they need, rather than putting a time-limit on our services.” Tim Vasudeva, CEO of RSPCA South Australia
In the past, RSPCA South Australia’s Inspectorate, Rescue and Shelter teams have liaised with community support agencies and police on an informal basis, taking on referrals and clients where possible.
“This process is now being formalised, and we are working more closely with these external groups to provide training and support to help them identify at-risk animals,” says Tim.
More to do
While the Safe Kennels initiative already helps hundreds of people and animals each year, the program is still in its infancy with a range of priorities for future development. Developing formal relationships with South Australian-based domestic violence agencies will be key, as will delivery of training modules for care workers, helping them to identify animals at risk and clarifying the process for case referral.
“Our initial focus is to expand our community foster care network, to enable more pets to be cared for in individual homes as opposed to constructing more kennel space. We estimate that the overall program will cost RSPCA South Australia over $100,000 this financial year, with that cost increasing over time as we take more animals into care,” says Tim.
To learn more about the RSPCA (SA) Safe Kennels program please contact Martin Carolan via firstname.lastname@example.org
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