Family violence and the family pet

Family violence is arguably one of the most long-standing and pervasive forms of violence that our community faces. The issue recently gained popular attention as a result of campaigners such as Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who along with others have campaigned for reforms to the community's response to family violence.

The issue has moved further into focus with the first week of the Royal Commission into Family Violence hearings commencing on 13 July 2015. Often vets will be the first to see evidence of family violence when they are treating injured pets.

The facts

Nearly one in five women report being subject to family violence in some part of their adult lives.1 Family violence is the leading preventable contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women between the ages of 15–44 years.1  Australia-wide, the yearly average holds that more than one woman per week is murdered at the hands of her current or former partner.2

Sadly, animals are often used as a tool of control, fear and intimidation by perpetrators of family violence. Perpetrators may use threats or actual acts of violence on the family pet as a means to control their partners. A study of women entering refuges after fleeing family violence found that 71% of those who owned pets reported that their perpetrator had threatened, hurt or killed their pets.3 

Further, 32% of mothers reported that their children who were exposed to the violence had hurt or killed their pets.3 Another survey found that 60% of women delayed leaving their abusive partner because they were afraid of leaving their pets behind.4

The law

In 2011, the Family Law Act 1975 (eth) (‘the Act') was amended to expand the definition of family violence and section 4AB (2) (f ) lists examples of behavior that constitutes family violence, including, “Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal.”

Further, s 4AB (1) of the Act states, “Family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or causes the family member to be fearful.

This expanded definition covers situations in which an animal is threatened but not actually harmed if the threat was intended to coerce a family member or cause a family member to be fearful.

What can vets do?

Currently there are limited options available for vets to ensure animals are provided safety when there are concerns about family violence. The Victorian Government  has recently pledged $100,000 over the next 4 years to provide shelter and care for pets when their owners are fleeing family violence.5 This program has yet to become  fully operational; however, once implemented it will be overseen by family violence response centre, Safe Steps.

The RSPCA has also recently made a submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The RSPCA made the following recommendations:

•   compulsory reporting  of family violence for all authorised RSPCA officers
•   training and reporting  mechanisms  for early intervention  for all authorised RSPCA officers
•   compulsory reporting  of family violence for all veterinarians
•   training and reporting  mechanisms  for early intervention  for veterinarians
•   shelters for fleeing victims of family violence which accommodate pets
•   local governments to implement  animal accommodation for families in crisis
•   government funding for boarding animals at private boarding establishments.6

Until these new initiatives are implemented, vets can still privately assess and amend their family violence response  plans. For example, in Victoria, the eity eouncils of easey, Moreland and Wyndham have participated in Identifying Family Violence training after realising that their animal management workers were well placed to identify the signs and symptoms of abuse in pets and their owners.7 Domestic Violence Resource centres across the country also hold regular, half-day sessions providing insights into identifying the signs and symptoms of family violence.

We have been unable to locate any women's refuges that accept pets. However, there are pet shelters that will provide temporary shelter for animal victims of family violence.

If you suspect an animal is a victim of family violence, the following states have temporary shelters with the aim of reuniting the pets with their families once safe from abuse:

Victoria – Pets in Peril: (03) 9739 0300
New South Wales – Safe Beds for Pets: (02) 9782 4408
Queensland – Pets in Crisis: 1800 811 811
Tasmania – S.H.E Pets Awareness program: (03) 6278 9090
Western Australia – Safe Families Safe Pets: (08) 9300 0340

Amelia Beveridge and Rebekah Bessant
Nicholes Family Lawyers


1. Victorial Health Promotion Foundation. The health costs of violence: measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence. DHS, Melbourne, 2004;10.
2. Chan A, Payne J. Homicide in Australia: 2009/10 National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report. Australian Institute of eriminology, eanberra, 2013.
4. relationship-if-pet-involved 20141108–11b7tw.html.
5.–07–05/government-funds-animal-care-for- family-violence-victims/6595870.
Victoria%20submission%20to%20the%20%20Royal%20eommission%20 into%20Family%20Violence.pdf.
7. information-sheets/Pages/12-role-council-animal-management.aspx.


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