Conference Report: Lucy’s Project – Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: International Perspectives

The Power of Solidarity, Sharing and Caring: Lucy’s Project (Sydney 2016).

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This past weekend I went to the second Lucy’s Project conference on ‘Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: International Perspectives’.  Lucy’s Project (you can learn much more from their website or facebook pages) aims to raise awareness of animals in violent homes and does so through various means, not least of which are its annual conferences.  This second one, I was told, had almost double the number of attendees of the first, at around 55, which in itself is amazing progress in twelve months.  But what stood out for me, far more than the number of those attending, was the energy and positivity.  And while I realise it’s a bit weird to say that a weekend spent discussing links between animal abuse and domestic violence was positive, it truly was.  To be sure, I heard stories that at times made me wonder why it is I have chosen to devote my professional life to understanding animal abuse, but I also heard about fantastic initiatives from wonderful caring people, aimed at addressing/stopping animal abuse and helping both the humans and animals affected by it, that made it clear to me why I do this.  The energy and the solidarity was refreshing and energising as we heard about moves from those in law enforcement, politics, domestic violence service provision, and animal welfare advocacy to recognise links between human-animal abuse and to devise ways to combat them.

We heard, for instance, about the importance of having workers dedicated specifically to animal programs in DV services, such as at EDVO’s Pets in Peril program; about how veterinary forensics can help in the identification of animal abuse from Lydia Tong, and from Freda Scott-Park about how this knowledge has been translated into education for vets and intervention protocols in the UK through The Links Group (also see here for more info and downloadable information); and about how the RSPCA sees animal welfare as tied intrinsically to human welfare which has led to their Safe Beds for Pets project in NSW.  We also heard about how past trauma can, for some, spur them toward making changes for others, through hearing from Glyn Scott about how she came to start the Love, Hope and Gratitude Foundation.

The international speakers were interesting, informative and giving of their time and energy.  Allie Philips for instance, spoke about programs she had developed: for example, the Sheltering Animals and Families Together (SAF-T) and genuinely offered to consult with any DV services at the conference who wanted to start their own animal sheltering initiatives within their services.  Not to mention the fact all her guidelines are available free on her website.  Frank Ascione spoke about his personal journey into the world of human-animal abuse links and how he started research in the area.  In fact one of the comments that stuck with me the most came from Frank.  He said how lucky he felt being an academic who got to see his academic work translated in such a way as to have impact on many people and animals, because that was rare.  I felt pretty disheartened to agree with him that it’s rare to see this kind of academic-impact.  It was enormously refreshing then, that throughout the entirety of the rest of the conference we saw – in abundance – exactly that crossover between academic work and practical initiatives.  And this brings me back to my earlier point that while it’s weird to say a conference on human-animal abuse links was positive, it really was.  I’ve come away energised and motivated and all the people I talked to at the conference said the same thing.

A final positive for me was the recognition of the need to situate recognition of links between domestic violence and animal abuse in broader intersectional analyses.  Several of the speakers talked about this, there were representatives from farmed animal sanctuaries attending, the conference was entirely vegan catered (and lovely food it was too), and the conference dinner was at a vegan restaurant where we had the additional delightful company of Scarlett O’Hairy (an utterly charming kelpie cross who lay across the laps of three of the diners, belly up and only raised her head when we stopped stroking her).

Roll on the 2017 conference, to be held in Adelaide.  I’m hoping to see many of this year’s faces again, as well as new ones as word about this movement spreads.

Thanks to Anna Ludvik and Suzy Maloney for all their hard work bringing the conference together.

 Author: Nik Taylor

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