'Life-saving' Victorian domestic violence pet shelter program struggling to meet high demand.

By Peter Lusted.

The organisers of a “life-saving” domestic violence program in Victoria say they are struggling to meet the high demands on their service, meaning women and children are staying in high-risk and violent homes for longer.

The pets at risk program finds animal shelters for the pets of domestic violence victims who previously chose not to leave dangerous homes due to their abuser’s threats about the safety of their animals.

The Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre receives 90,000 calls for help each year and 40 per cent of victims have had their pets harmed or threatened to be harmed.

Christine Craik was in an abusive marriage for 13 years and said her husband used her love for animals to prevent her and her children from leaving him.

“We had dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chooks and ducks … we did a bit of wildlife rescue, anything that walked in the door got loved and looked after,” she said.

“Fairly early on I think he realised he could control me if he hurt the animals, or looked like he was going to hurt the animals.

“It would be nothing for him to punch them, kick them, try to brand them. He actually mortally wounded one of our golden retrievers, I got my worst injuries trying to stop him hurting our cat.”

Ms Craik said she wanted to leave but had nowhere to take her animals and was scared about what may happen to them.

“There were people who might have taken a small dog, but not a whole heap of animals like that,” she said.

“When you’ve actually been told that if you leave ‘I’ll kill all your chooks’, or I’ll do this — you can’t leave your animals to that type of punishment.

“It was a horrible enough situation for the kids and I to live in … if he’d done that to our animals and killed them all when we left, I’m not sure how I would have handled the guilt and I’m sure it would have had a huge impact on my children.”

High demand not being met

Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre chief executive Annette Gillespie said Ms Craic’s story was a common one.

“It’s been known for a long time in the family violence services sector that harm to pets is one of the critical tactics that the perpetrator can use and it often means that women find it difficult to leave the relationship knowing their pets are likely to be harmed if they do,” she said.


The pets at risk program helps find shelter for the pets of 3,500 families each year at a variety of sites, including the Lort Smith Animal Hospital.

Hospital chief executive David Herman said they had struggled to meet the high demand.

“Despite our efforts we turn away as many animals as we can help each year,” he said.

The State Government started funding the program in 2015 with $100,000 provided over four years.

Ms Gillespise said it was a ground-breaking move by the Government at the time but more help was needed.

“We would very much like to see funding to increase and for there to be longevity of that funding, for it to be sustainable,” she said.

“This program assists women to leave safely and feel confident that their pets will also be safe so essentially it is a life-saving program.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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