ANIMAL welfare advocates have welcomed changes in the definition of domestic violence to include harming the family pet, saying it would help protect vulnerable people and their animals.
The RSPCA's ACT branch has operated a Pet Support program for the past 10 years, which has given foster care to animals whose owners had fled domestic violence.
''This is an issue we have been aware of for quite a long time,'' chief executive Michael Linke said.
''The women's refuges don't allow pets to be brought in and I have spoken to them in the past about putting in cat runs and dog accommodation.
''It is something we would be willing to help with and support.''
A 2008 Monash University study discovered a close link between domestic violence and animal abuse. It found that one in three women delayed leaving a violent domestic situation for fear their pets would be harmed. More than 50 per cent of women in violent relationships reported that their pets had also been abused.
Children were witness to the abuse in 29 per cent of cases and the pets were killed in 17 per cent of households where there was family violence.
The changes in the definition of domestic violence include emotional manipulation, withholding money and harming the family pet under controversial changes to family law.
The changes, which became law last week, have for the first time broadened the definition of violence beyond physical abuse to other damaging actions. Under the changes, the Family Court will be required to ask parents if there was abuse or a threat of abuse in the relationship.
Mr Linke said the Pet Support program offered shelter to domestic violence survivors, as well as people who had to go to hospital and those who were experiencing mental health problems. Louise Hanson and Jeff Pridmore adopted kelpie-cross Dooley, who had been in the Pet Support program for just over two years.
Dooley's previous owner had been hospitalised and had passed away following a long illness. ''He was very close to his last owner and the owner was actually there when he was born,'' Ms Hanson said.
''He seems to have been really well loved. He is settling in well [and] is a big teddy really.''
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RSPCA PET SUPPORT
The RSPCA Pet Support program aims to keep people and pets together in circumstances where the pet would otherwise be surrendered. The RSPCA Pet Support program is available to people who have a serious illness or are frail and elderly. This service is offered to low income earners, as resources are limited.