safe steps Pets in Crisis program – Helping women escape family violence knowing their pets are safe

“It’s a horrible reality that women find it difficult to leave a violent relationship knowing their pets are likely to be harmed if they do.” – Annette Gillespie, safe steps CEO

No woman should have to choose between leaving a violent relationship and keeping a pet safe.

But heartbreakingly, because crisis care refuges and motels are often unable to accommodate pets, that’s a choice many women and children have had to face – staying and risking harm themselves, or leaving their cherished pets at the mercy of the perpetrator.

But now, the safe stepsPets in Crisis program assists women and children to leave unsafe family environments, confident their pets will also be safe.

The program is a partnership between safe steps and numerous Victorian animal welfare agencies and local government bodies.

Now, if a woman calls the safe steps 24-hour family violence response phone line and has a pet she feels is at risk, safe steps crisis support advocates can immediately contact an animal welfare agency and arrange for pets to be placed in emergency boarding.

All pets will then be placed in suitable temporary animal accommodation until such time as they can be reunited with their families.

Joanne’s Story: “When you’ve been told that if you leave ‘I’ll kill the pets’, it makes it so much harder to walk away.”

While the Pets in Crisis program now allows women and children affected by family violence to leave the home without leaving their pets behind, sadly, in the past, a lack of temporary accommodation for pets has been a big barrier to women and children leaving abuse.

Joanne* was in an abusive relationship for over 10 years. Her ex-husband regularly used the family pets as a means to manipulate and punish Joanne and her children.

“It was obvious to him he could control me by either threatening to hurt – or actually hurting ­– the animals.

“He regularly punched and kicked them, or pulled them up by their ears. He actually killed one of our dogs, I got my worst injuries trying to stop him hurting our pets.”

Joanne wanted to leave but had nowhere to take her animals and was scared about what may happen to them.

“When you’ve been told that if you leave ‘I’ll kill the pets’, it makes it so much harder to walk away.

“If he’d have killed the animals when we left, I’m not sure how I would have handled the guilt. Not to mention how it would have affected the children.”

Thankfully, Joanne, her children and her pets were eventually able to escape the horrific violence they were being subjected to, but they had to rely on the goodwill of several friends and extended family to do so.

Now, with the Pets in Crisis program, women like Joanne will be able to leave abusive relationships more easily knowing their pets will also be safe.

More information on the Pets in Crisis Program can be found here. If you are experiencing family violence, call the 24/7 safe steps response phone line on 1800 015 188 to find out more about the professional support services available to you.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy