Desperate to leave an abusive relationship but fearful of having to leave your pet behind?

Deciding to leave a violent and abusive relationship is often a difficult and complex process. Once that decision has been made, how do you do it? What are the risks involved for your children and your family pets?

It has been reported that about 60% of family violence victims stay in their abusive relationships as they do not want to leave their pets behind.[i] This is frightfully common.

In March 2021, the Victorian Parliament unanimously passed a motion by a Private Member to recognise animal abuse as a form of family violence.[ii]

What could this mean for the victim and the family pet when leaving the abusive relationship?

It is commonly known that family violence perpetrators hurt or threaten to abuse the family pet as a means of exerting control or retribution over their partner and family. Have you, or someone you know, heard phrases such as ‘I will kill the dog or dump the cat if you leave or do not do XYZ…’ from their partner?

It is apparent that Australians love having pets, with the Australia Bureau of Statistics reporting that 62% of homes have a pet, which is equivalent to 3 in every 5 homes.

Jess Hill, author of ‘See what you made me do’ wrote “harming friends or family would risk police involvement, it’s less risky to hurt or kill the family pet”.[iii]  This is a real cause of concern for people wanting to leave abusive relationships.

Once a decision has been made to leave an abusive relationship, where does one go with a pet? What if you require the family pet as a source of therapeutic support or as a service companion? This will require some pre-planning as there is at least a two month wait at dedicated animal shelters.

It is possible for the perpetrator, who is usually the legal owner of the family pet, to track the victim down using the pet’s microchip or registration. The perpetrator could then take the family pet back, who could then be used as pawn to coerce the victim back to the relationship or file a complaint of theft against the victim.

The motion that unanimously passed on 3 March 2021, provides for family pets, otherwise known as ‘companion animals’ to be defined as ‘family members’ under the Family Violence Protection Act (2008).[iv]

The Family Violence Protection Act provides that family violence is behaviour towards a family member (now including the family pet) that is physically or sexually abusive, emotionally or psychologically abusive, economically abusive, threatening, coercive or in any other way controls or dominates the family member.

The motion also enables the family pets to be removed from family violence perpetrators and their ownership automatically transferring to the victim. This aims to minimise perpetrator’s ability to use the family pet as a coercion tool, to be abused at will.

In addition, the government will provide more funding for pet-friendly crisis centres as well as a once-off government payment to assist the victims in removing the family pets from violent homes amongst other initiatives.

It is hopeful that the motion will increase victim’s reports of family violence or breaches of intervention orders. It has been reported that 48% of victims do not report every incident of violence for fear of further abuse to themselves or their family members.[v]

If you need advice in relation to intervention orders or property and parenting matters involving family violence, please contact Rowan Skinner & Associates Lawyers to arrange a complimentary 15-minute consultation.

References

[i] Meddick, A. (2021b, March 15). My Family Violence Motion Speech. Andy Meddick. https://andymeddick.com.au/2021/03/15/my-family-violence-motion-speech/

[ii] The bill has had its first reading.

[iii] Hill, J. (2019). See what you made me do: power, control and domestic abuse. Black Inc. https://www.booktopia.com.au/see-what-you-made-me-do-jess-hill/prod9781760641405.html

[iv] Meddick, A. (2021a, March 3). Notice Paper No. 95 [Motion Paper]. Legislative Council. Parliament of Victoria.

[v] Meddick, A. (2021b, March 15). My Family Violence Motion Speech. Andy Meddick. https://andymeddick.com.au/2021/03/15/my-family-violence-motion-speech/