When did the initiative commence?

In 2016, the Keeping our Pets Safe project was initiated by the Community Educator at the Victims Assistance Program, Merri Health. After hearing about Moreland Council’s Domestic Animal Management initiative in relation to accommodating pets in family violence situations, she sought to gather the animal management teams of all northern metropolitan region (NMR) local councils to discuss a coordinated approach.

The initial vision of the project was to create a brochure to inform services that might respond to family violence about what local councils provided in terms of pet accommodation. As with many initiatives, which start with a specific aim, the project has grown in its complexity and aims.

What need does it respond to?

One in three women delays leaving family violence situations due to concerns about leaving their pets behind, according to recent research.

The link between family violence and animal abuse is well recognised through tools such as the Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) and the Victoria Police Code of Practice for Investigating Family Violence.  Threatening to harm or kill pets is a method used by some violent men as a means to control their partners.

Given the evidence, there is a clear need to address women (and children’s) concerns. Safe, temporary and flexible accommodation is needed for their pets.

Moreland City Council has already responded to this need in their Domestic Animal Management Plan 2013–2017, which states that the council offers free housing for animals where this is needed to support a woman leaving violence.

What organisations are involved in this partnership/project?

Merri Health’s Victims Assistance Program have been coordinating the project since its inception. The Project Team currently includes representatives from the seven Northern Metropolitan Councils, Victoria Police Family Violence Teams, and the Northern Integrated Family Violence Services.

What does the initiative do? Who does the initiative support?

Keeping our Pets Safe is working to enhance and coordinate the NMR response to pets in the context of family violence, particularly in relation to local councils, but also of the integrated family violence service system and animal welfare agencies e.g. Lort Smith.

How is it resourced/funded?

The organisations involved are resourcing the project by allocating staff time towards the Project Team and related activities. Merri Health’s Victims Assistance Program has continued to take on the coordination role of this project. The Victims Assistance Program is funded by Department Justice and Regulation.

The NIFVS Coordination Team has supported the project by providing specialised training on animal abuse in the context of family violence to all Animal Management Teams in the local councils.  Victoria Police have also been involved in the training. A number of councils contributed towards the cost of catering for the training.

What are the intended outcomes?

  • Promote a consistent process across NMR local councils in order to provide temporary accommodation for pets while women and/or children experiencing family violence relocate to safe accommodation.
  • Provide family violence and other services with the necessary information to facilitate safe pet accommodation.
  • Ensure women and children across the NMR have a consistent way to access pet accommodation as required.
  • Increase the capability of council animal management staff to identify pets at risk in family violence situations.
  • Achieve legislative reform to remove barriers in the Family Violence Act relating to property and pets.
  • Explore how council and integrated family violence services collect data about pets affected by family violence, and make recommendations to improve processes and protocols.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to set up a similar partnership/undertake a similar project?

Jo Seymour, Community Educator at the Victims Assistance Program, Merri Health says, ‘Be patient, positive and prepared for the project to take time and for unexpected issues and barriers to arise.’ But also, ‘Expect a lot of people will want to be involved!’

How should clients be referred into the program?

This project will develop information for service providers about how councils can assist clients experiencing family violence with pet accommodation.