Pet Refuge: Helping all family members escape domestic violence

Pet Refuge has helped over 100 animals since opening last year.

David White / Stuff

Pet Refuge has helped over 100 animals since opening last year.

Michelle hung up seven times before finally speaking to someone on the crisis line.

She had thought about leaving her partner for years, but things finally went wrong during the confinement; his physical, emotional and psychological abuse escalated as New Zealanders retreated to their homes.

She had no family support and had long hidden her trauma from friends and colleagues, not wanting to burden them with her problems. She had three kids and nowhere to go, and then there was the dog.

“He beat him, hit him and kicked him. Especially when he wasn’t in a good mood.

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Julie Chapman, founder of Pet Refuge who cares for pets while their owners rebuild their lives after abuse.

David White / Stuff

Julie Chapman, founder of Pet Refuge who cares for pets while their owners rebuild their lives after abuse.

Michelle’s dog has been at Pet Refuge Auckland for seven months and she thanks the charity for helping her rebuild her life. And maybe save him.

When she and her children were moved to emergency accommodation, they had to leave their pet to an unknown fate. Her partner used to take things from the animal, giving her the boot when he didn’t have the money he had long relied on her for.

“Our dog was one of the things that held me back, one of the reasons it took me so long to leave.”

But she did, and she knows that other women in her situation will be able to do the same because there is a place that will take their pets. They are also members of the family, after all.

“We focus on our healing process knowing that our dog is safe and well cared for. I hope one day we can get together.

Pet Refuge has helped over 100 pets and their owners since opening in July 2021.

Founded by Julie Chapman, the woman behind the charity KidsCan, the idea came from research showing that more than half of Women’s Refuge clients had seen abusers threaten to kill their pets.

Chapman said one of the things that also came out of the research was how pets were used as a constant threat by abusers who would threaten to kill the animals if their partner left.

Julie Chapman opened New Zealand's first pet shelter in 2021.

David White / Stuff

Julie Chapman opened New Zealand’s first pet shelter in 2021.

Housing up to 75 animals at a time, the shelter also works with landowners who will keep larger animals and livestock safe until they can be reunited with their owners.

Nikki Marchant-Ludlow says there are no limits to the cruelty abusers will inflict and threaten on animals in an effort to control their partners.

The shelter’s program manager has heard it all and says that not only are the calls for help increasing, but the threats of violence against pets are increasing.

“On Friday alone, I had five calls; two pets were just dropped off about 10 minutes ago, and I have seven more in the works this week.

A survey of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets found that 53% had delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pets' safety.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

A survey of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets found that 53% had delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pets’ safety.

Referrals for service come from the police and Women’s Refuge or directly from those experiencing abuse. Some aren’t ready to go yet, they’re just setting things up for when they do. Many have had injured or killed pets in front of them, so they know this is not an unnecessary threat.

“I’ve had feedback where the cat has been thrown against the wall or dogs have been kicked – this is common. Cats seem to be targeted in terms of being thrown or threatened with death because they are easy to pick up.

A 2008 survey by Women’s Refuge of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets found that 53% had delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pets’ safety.

The shelter can accommodate up to 75 animals at a time.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

The shelter can accommodate up to 75 animals at a time.

It also revealed that 73% had a partner who kicked a pet or farm animal, and 41% said they or their children had been forced to watch a pet or a farm animal being injured.

These statistics play out every day in Marchant-Ludlow’s work. The staff enjoy caring for the animals they treat as their own, providing them with veterinary care and enriching them.

Pets stay at the shelter for an average of three to four months, and it’s a highlight when they are finally returned to their owners. These happy occasions mean everything to everyone: a family reunited, a family finally safe.

To support the shelter, visit petrefuge.org.nz or call 09 975 0850.

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