RSPCA Victoria commends parliamentary decision to include companion animals in family violence legislation

In a win for animal welfare, pets will now be recognised as victims of family violence as an Animal Justice Party motion proposing changes to Victoria’s family violence laws passed unanimously in Parliament today.

The motion has called on the government to review the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to recognise that companion animals are affected by family violence. The motion also called for more funding to support victim survivors of family violence, including for the care of animals, and removing barriers for victims who are trying to escape abusive households but don’t want to leave their pet behind.

RSPCA Victoria CEO, Dr Liz Walker, said the link between family violence and animal abuse was well-documented, both in research and in the experience of RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectors.

“Numerous studies have shown that in households experiencing domestic violence and abuse, there is also a high probability of animal abuse. We know that cruelty to animals is a strong marker for other forms of violence, so we are very supportive of any improvements to legislation that works to better protect both people and animals in these situations,” says Dr Walker.

“While the proposed changes aim to better protect animals in violent homes, importantly, they also recognise that victims often do not leave abusive situations for fear of abandoning their animals. Pets are an important part of the family, so making it easier for victims to leave unsafe situations with their pets is a huge step forward.”

In the 2019-20 financial year, RSPCA Victoria provided emergency boarding for 148 animals, including those belonging to people affected by family violence.

“RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectors investigate thousands of animal cruelty reports every year and often see that where animal abuse exists, so does family violence. Our Inspectors are trained to identify signs of abuse and work closely to refer these cases to relevant social services, Victoria Police and family violence agencies.

“We hope that these changes will encourage further cross-agency collaboration, to identify signs of animal abuse before it is reported to us. Veterinarians, community service workers and other frontline staff should be trained and supported to identify and report suspected cases of animal cruelty.”

RSPCA Victoria believes that key agencies need to be empowered to create more opportunities for companion animals to be accommodated at refuge centres and other emergency housing facilities. The RSPCA also believes that relevant state and territory legislation should allow for the inclusion of companion animals in violence intervention/restraining orders.

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