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Animal Aid welfare worker, Sharon Smith holding her pet dog, Eagan.

How sweet it is to be welcomed home by family after a long time apart.

Or so it must’ve felt if these three pet cats, two guinea pigs and one rabbit were given a voice.

The furry passengers were gripped with excitement as they were driven home in a van by Animal Aid welfare worker, Sharon Smith.

Earlier that day, Sharon received a phone call saying the pet owner, a mother of three, had found a new home and escaped the clutches of her abusive partner.

“I don’t know who was more excited, me or the lady,” said Sharon.

For a month these animals had been in the care of Animal Aid, a not-for-profit animal welfare organisation.

Now it was time to return them to a new home, free from fear and domestic abuse.

“When I knocked at the door all I could hear was ‘mummy they’re here, they’re here’. The sheer excitement in all of their voices, including the mum, was putting a big lump in my throat,” said Sharon, the memories of the occasion still bright in her eyes.

“Well, the tears were flowing with joy from the kids. And the pets were getting so many cuddles and kisses. It was just beautiful to watch.”

This story is one of hope and not despair – sadly, this is not the case for many other pets and families in need.

And it’s hitting closer to home than ever before.

“Sometimes I wonder what this family would have done if they hadn’t been told about our Pets in Peril program. Would they still be living with the perpetrator? Or would they have fled and have had to leave the pets behind, and not know what the future would have been for the pets?” said Sharon.

Recent reports confirm that family violence-related crime has climbed by 39.9 per cent in Victoria, with the state’s overall crime rate rising for the first time since 2000/2001.

A 2008 Monash University study has also proven that more than 50 per cent of victims delay leaving a violent relationship, fearing the abuser will harm the family pet.

Leaving these victims silenced.

A furry adoption candidate in the Animal Aid cattery

Launched in 2006, Animal Aid’s Pets in Peril program offers a way of giving them a voice.

Debra Boland, Animal Aid Marketing and Communications Manager, said that the program offers temporary accommodation to the pets of victims fleeing domestic violence.

“Basically we give them about 28 days but unfortunately that is rarely long enough. And we are often asked to extend that period of time. And we do,” said Debra.

“It means that victims will no longer have to compromise their safety and the safety of their children for the sake of their pets.”

In September 2012, the Baillieu government pledged 16 million dollars in response to the rise in domestic violence in Victoria.

But space in the Animal Aid facilities is limited, and they receive no government funding for the 6000 animals they take in each year.

“Ignorance is probably too hard a word, but a lack of government understanding of the role animal shelters play in the domestic violence realm,” said Debra

“It’s a logical conclusion to give the money to the domestic violence support services. They just don’t see Animal Aid as one of them.”

Despite no official government funding, the efforts of over 470 volunteers help maintain programs like Pets in Peril.

The program’s role is now being recognised by the Yarra Ranges Council Youth Services, which is sponsoring a Dog-A-Thon to raise funds and awareness.

“Aside from being an animal lover, I want to make a difference to the lives of those that cannot speak for themselves,” said Romina Inglese, member of the Council’s ‘Youth Leaders’ program.

“All proceeds will go to Animal Aid to build more infrastructure as part of their campaign to rescue more animals.”

The campaign is called Give Them A Voice, and it intends to do exactly that.

For more information please ring 9739 0300, or visit the official Animal Aid and Give Them a Voice website.
Donate to Animal Aid at any branch of Bendigo Bank.