Picture: Petra Starke
I RECKON there are two types of people in the world: those who love dogs, and those who are best avoided.

I am one of the former (which is handy, as avoiding oneself can be tricky).

Staunchly so, actually; I am what one might call “dog obsessed”. At least, I’m obsessed with my own dog, less so with other people’s, which I don’t suppose is that surprising. It’s certainly not surprising if you’ve met my dog: Charlie looks like a teddy bear come to life and can sit on command. He also barks at everything that moves and is provoked to a frenzy every time he sees a scooter, which are rather less endearing characteristics, but I will always forgive him because ... well. Obsessed.

I hate leaving him alone. I feel terrible when I have to go out at night and leave him with just the radio for company. When my partner and I moved overseas in 2011, a trip that sadly excluded canine companions, we handed Charlie over to two wonderful friends to be his foster carers for a year. I cried hysterically all the way home from the drop off, remembering his little face staring questioningly out the window as I walked away. I am welling up at the memory just typing this out, for goodness sake!

So I can’t imagine what I’d do if my partner wasn’t the loving, caring man he is, and was instead a violent, controlling abuser. I can’t imagine how I would contemplate escaping an abusive relationship, knowing I would have to leave Charlie behind, because SA’s domestic violence support agencies don’t provide help for pets.

It might sound trivial to you, but for someone who’s already worried about finding a new home, getting financially independent, protecting her children, and navigating social services, having to leave her beloved dog behind is just one more hurdle to escaping an abusive relationship — and it’s one that prevents many women from taking the first step out the door.

None of this had occurred to me until last week, when I heard for the first time about the RSPCA SA’s Safe Kennels Project. A relatively new initiative, it provides emergency accommodation for the pets of those affected by domestic violence, to keep them safe while their owners get the help they need. It’s essentially a halfway house for dogs.

And it’s an unfortunately popular service: they get more than 30 requests a week for safe kennels, referred from support agencies. That’s 30 women a week trying to escape abuse — and those are only the ones with pets. It’s a shocking statistic.

It’s expensive too; the cost of caring for each animal that comes through the Safe Kennels Project is more than $500, with about half of that going on food. Each pet stays for an average of 100 days.

Requests for the Safe Kennels service are currently more than the RSPCA SA can handle. Last year the organisation provided emergency accommodation for more than 200 animals, but had to turn many more away. It’s depressing to think that there may be women out there who decided to stay with their abusive partners because of this shortfall.

This is why the RSPCA SA is now raising money to expand the Safe Kennels service by building extra kennels and developing a network of foster carers to assist with housing. They want to double the number of animals they house this year — and double the number of women they help to escape violence and abuse.

You can find out more by going to their website: www.rspcasa.org.au


First published in The Advertiser on Saturday, February 13, 2016. CLICK HERE to read the original article.