Australian First Pilot Program Will See Family Violence Survivors and Pets Sheltered Together in Safety

In a ground-breaking Australian first, RSPCA NSW is partnering with Dignity Ltd to launch RSPCA NSW’s Safe Families Project pilot that will see the very urgent yet often forgotten issue of providing safe passage and safety to people fleeing family violence situations with pets.

The pilot program is made possible by the NSW State Government’s newly announced Domestic and Family Violence Innovation Fund who have awarded the program a grant, as well as very generous donations from George Pitt Wood Trust and Eric Norman Sweet Trust. This has allowed the project to be fully funded across up to five refuges in the state.

Domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and children, while one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them[1].

There are only two domestic violence shelters in the country that allow pets, while up to 85% of women entering domestic violence shelters report that their partner had threatened, injured or killed the family pet[2]. Short-term housing such as motels almost never allow pets either, so for someone fleeing a violence family situation with pets there are not many options.

“The human-animal bond is incredibly powerful, providing stress relief, emotional support and unconditional love, and for those who have survived traumatic situations, this relationship is vital,” comments RSPCA NSW Community Outreach Programs Manager Sandra Ma.

“When left with few options, victims may be forced to give up this source of love or stay in an abusive relationship. If refuges become pet friendly, this creates a better outcome for a greater number leaving violent situations.”

Twelve independent studies report that between 18% and 48% of women (33% of women in Australia according to a 2008 study[3]) have delayed leaving, or have returned to, their abuser out of fear for the welfare of their pets or livestock[4].

RSPCA NSW’s Safe Beds For Pets program has helped over 1,100 pets caught in domestic violence situations through support, emergency boarding and transport since the program’s conception in 2004 and received almost 340 calls for help last year. However, this means (temporarily) separating humans with their pets, at a time when they are required most to reduce stress and hardship.

Through a partnership with Dignity refuges, RSPCA NSW’s Safe Families Project pilot program will provide a framework and practical support to refuges throughout NSW to be able to accommodate humans and pets together on-site, providing a safe enclosure, food, preventative treatment, and other materials needed to accommodate animals in the refuge.

The pilot is an Australian first and addresses a critical issue and gap in the support system for the thousands of people that seek safety from family violence each year. The pilot will commence on 1st August 2017 and run for nine months. The framework developed from this pilot project will be offered to refuges across the state wanting to become pet friendly, in the hope that safe spaces for survivors of violence to be sheltered with their pets will become the norm.

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). Personal Safety, Australia, 2012, cat. no. 4906.0.

[2] FR Ascione, CV Weber, DS Wood (1997)- The abuse of animals and domestic violence: A national survey of shelters for women who are battered- Society and Animals 5(3)

[3] A Volant, J Johnson, E Gullone, G Coleman (2008)- The Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse. An Australian Study- Journal of Interpersonal Violence- Sage Publications

[4] FR Ascione (2007). Emerging research on animal risk as a risk factor for intimate partner violence- Intimate Partner Violence, Civic Research Institute


For more information, or an interview with a RSPCA NSW spokesperson, please contact Stefania Kubowicz
Mobile: 0488 905 353 | Email: