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Prevention of Family Violence – Safe Beds for Pets

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Tags: Women, Family Violence, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, just then, you talked about Safe Beds for Pets. There is increasing recognition of the incredibly important role of animals in victim-survivors escaping domestic violence, and in homelessness, for women in homelessness, and for people suffering mental health issues. There is that little bit of funding available, but it is really important to expand the program. I would just like you to explain the money for Safe Beds for Pets, and whether there is any support for services such as the Hobart Women's Shelter and other shelters for them to expand or increase the capacity to bring on companion animals.

Ms PALMER - I will start with the funding around welfare for pets when they do become involved in family violence situations. We certainly understand that pet owners often face additional challenges and barriers when they are trying to leave abusive relationships, whether they own cat or dog or other animals, which of course can be large animals such as horses and sheep. Pets are increasingly recognised as being important and loved and loyal members of a family, and they certainly play a vital role in the physical and emotional wellbeing of their owners.

It is also recognised that the harm, or threat of harm, to pets can be part of a perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour, and can be seen as a bit of a negotiating tool when it comes to trying to inflict suffering -

Dr WOODRUFF - Along with children, yes, that’s right.

Ms PALMER - Yes, in varying degrees. So, the Tasmanian Family Violence Act includes threats and intimidation, in addition to damage caused directly or indirectly to any property, and therefore harm or threats or harm to pets in a family violence incident is inclusive of family violence.

The Government launched the flexible support program in 2021 to provide flexible and responsive practical support for people affected by family violence. That program provides up to $6000 for victim-survivors of family violence, which can include covering pet expenses. That might be kennel costs while the victim-survivor is in emergency housing, or kennel costs for travel on the Spirit of Tasmania if a victim needs to relocate interstate. We allocated $330 000 to the flexible support program through Survivors at the Centre last financial year, and this payment will continue to 2023 24.

Additionally, through the National Partnership on Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Responses 2021 23, the RSPCA was funded $100 000 over two years to pilot the Safe Beds for Pets program. This program established a coordinated network of safe bed providers and funded safe bed places for pets in Tasmania in at-risk situations, including family violence and homelessness.

The RSPCA’s Safe Beds snapshot from 1 June 2022 to 31 October 2022 indicated that 2215 individual nights of care were provided for 86 animals, as well as $4650 in veterinary costs, $4400 in transport costs and $56 000 in team costs. During that period, 65 animals were returned to their owners, and four were surrendered and rehomed. The program was accessed by 19 people and 36 animals over this period, directly due to family violence.

In March 2023, the additional funding that you've mentioned was provided to the RSPCA to continue the Safe Beds for Pets program due to that resounding success.

Applications for the flexible support program and Safe Beds for Pets can be made by government or non government services on behalf of clients who have undertaken a family violence risk assessment and created a safety plan. Both programs provide reassurance for victim-survivors that their pets are safely taken care of, and are beneficial for those in violent situations, particularly for refuge and shelter residents, those accessing temporary shelter, those in immediate danger of homelessness, or those who have been unable to access alternative accommodation.

I also understand the RSPCA has many philanthropic partners to assist with the Safe Beds for Pets program as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. That didn't really answer the question I asked, which was specifically about women's shelters, and whether you're open to doing some work with women's shelters to look at how they can increase their capacity there.

Although Safe Beds for Pets is amazing, it's principally volunteer work done by the RSPCA, and as I understand it, it does involve separating the animal, the pet, from the family, from the mother and children. The better situation would be never to have to leave home in the first place, but to have a capacity for the refuge or the safe place to be equipped for the animals to come with them. This is what the RSPCA are offering.

Along with the other conversation you said you’ll have with Jan Davis in the other portfolio about cats, can you also commit to putting your attention to refuges and shelters themselves in those places, and how they can be adjusted, so there's not as much pressure on having to find safe beds for pets elsewhere?

Ms PALMER - I certainly agree that always the preference would be for victims of family violence to be able to stay in their homes, where they have that continuity of structure - and, if they have pets, pets can remain with them. When it comes to looking at pets in shelter, obviously shelters come under minister Barnett, but I think that's a really interesting conversation. Minister Barnett and I are certainly spending a lot of time looking at what can be done with regard to housing. The Women's portfolio and the Prevention of Family Violence portfolio need to have a really strong voice in that space, but shelters comes under minister Barnett, for homeless -

Dr WOODRUFF - Could you commit to raising this particular issue with him?

Ms PALMER - I’m more than happy to commit to do that. The only way we're going to see change in preventing family is by having that whole-of-government attitude towards it. That's primarily my role in this space, to ensure that whenever there's opportunity to have those discussions, that we do have those discussions. There will be complexities around shelters and having animals there, but I think it's most worthy of a conversation.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks.