Veterinary initiative to help people and animals together

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26 April 2012

Two charming little Schnauzers – Lulu and Seven – and a sedate Border collie called Skye stepped into the limelight today as mascots for an important new anti-violence project.

Domestic Abuse Veterinary Intervention poster

All three were present at the launch of the Domestic Abuse Veterinary Intervention (DAVI) – in which OneKind is a partner – which addresses the shameful truth that in many homes where domestic abuse takes place, humans are not the only victims. Family pets can also bear the brunt of the abuser’s actions.

Launched under the banner of anti-violence charity Medics Against Violence and including as partners OneKind, the Links Group, Crimestoppers, Pet Fostering Scotland and the Violence Reduction Unit, DAVI aims to combat the abuse of pets and people, by informing and training veterinary surgeons about the issues that may arise in practice.

DAVI follows on from the success of MAV’s domestic abuse dental initiative, which has so far seen around 500 dentists trained across Scotland. MAV founder Dr Christine Goodall said:

Like doctors and dentists, vets often build strong relationships with clients over years of visits. This makes them ideally placed to spot signs of abuse not only in an animal but also in their owner. Yet on the whole, like dentists, vets are unprepared for this situation. The training we are offering helps them take advantage of a “golden moment” to intervene and help.

OneKind supporter Alesha Dixon also welcomed the initiative, saying:

The mistreatment of animals is something that should concern all of us. Individuals who hurt and neglect animals are often likely to hurt and neglect other people. Increasingly we hear about ever more terrible cases of abuse and neglect, and it is time not only for zero tolerance towards those who harm animals, but also for more initiatives to prevent this violence in the first place.

DAVI will offer veterinary surgeons in Scotland the information and reassurance that they need when they suspect that their patient, and possibly sometimes the patient’s owner, may have suffered non-accidental injury (abuse). These cases are rare, but research over the last decade has consistently shown that they do arise in practice. 

The MAV Practice Note for dentists has been adapted by British Veterinary Association (BVA) past-President Dr Freda Scott-Park, who is also Chairman of the Links Group, to inform and advise veterinary surgeons about potential domestic abuse issues.  The new Practice Note explains how vets can apply the AVDR principles (Asking, Validating, Documenting and Recording) developed for dentists by Dr Barbara Gerbert of the University of California, San Francisco. 

Freda Scott-Park has also written comprehensive guidance for vets on the wider issues of non-accidental injury as they may be encountered in practice, and this has recently been endorsed by the BVA.  Freda said:

Over the years we’ve seen a growing number of cases where animals have been used as a way of manipulating and controlling victims of domestic abuse. The threat or actual abuse of a pet can often prevent women from leaving situations of domestic abuse. By training vets to be aware of the signs of animal and domestic abuse, we can hopefully support those who are suffering towards getting help.

Download the veterinary guidance (PDF).

Crucially, DAVI will also enable the safe reporting of animal abuse, or suspected animal abuse, by members of the public.  A poster (see right) has been produced for distribution to all vets in Scotland, highlighting the fact that animals and humans can be victims of the same abuser.  The poster encourages people to report anonymously to Crimestoppers Scotland, where their information will be acted on and they need have no fear about speaking up.

Another important strand is the provision of practical assistance to people with pets who need to escape domestic abuse.  Because many shelters for people fleeing abuse are unable to accept animals, Pet Fostering Service Scotland, supported by OneKind, is establishing a corps of foster carers prepared to take on the challenging and open-ended role of caring for pets from abusive homes.

OneKind is delighted to have played a part in establishing this new partnership. Pets are part of many families and their welfare is closely linked with that of the people they share their lives with. Equally, they can be hurt or terrorised by the same abuser, and this is why the DAVI project, helping people and animals together, is so important.

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