New Zealand's first shelter for pets affected by family violence has been welcomed by Northland Women's Refuge officials despite its Auckland location.
The Pet Refuge opened in Auckland last week and is offering vacancies, plus free transport to Northland animals.
Pet Refuge was the dream of Julie Chapman, who used the inheritance from her parents to see it come to fruition last week. It has been built to help victims who delay leaving abuse over concern for their animals.
The charity will transport pets from throughout New Zealand to the rural Auckland shelter, which will provide expert care until their owners find a safe place to live.
Chapman said Pet Refuge will make it easier for abuse victims with pets to leave sooner.
"Sadly, Pet Refuge is desperately needed. We have horrifying rates of family violence in New Zealand, and pets often bear the brunt of that. Animals are harmed or threatened by perpetrators to control their victims. Victims are staying in dangerous situations because they can't take pets to a safe house, and fear they'll be hurt or killed if they leave them behind."
A Women's Refuge survey of victims who had experienced animal abuse found 53 per cent delayed leaving out of fear for their animals' safety. Seventy-three per cent would have found it easier to leave if there were a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their animals.
"Since we announced our plans, we have had more than 100 inquiries for help, so we know there is a significant need for our service," Chapman said. "The shelter will be a safe haven for animals until they can be reunited with their owners in a violence-free home."
The purpose-built shelter will house up to 75 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and other small pets, and animals can stay as long as is needed. Larger animals, including horses, cows, sheep and goats, will be cared for via a network of regional safe farms.
Whangārei's Te Puna O te Aroha Māori Women's Refuge is a sister refuge to Whangārei's Tryphina House, and has at least 45 referrals weekly with about half of those deemed high-risk. Up to 75 per cent have children and at least half had pets. Manager Zona May Heta welcomed the Pet Refuge.
"We are so grateful. I believe it's a great kaupapa for both our women and our children who we are unable to take because we don't have a pet refuge, and I think there will be a lot of comfort that it brings emotionally because the issues around separations with children and animals, let alone mum, is pretty traumatic. They find solace in knowing the animals are safe. It's comforting emotionally, physically and mentally.
"This will absolutely make a difference. At least the children will know that they will still have their animal if they end up relocating and it's more encouraging. It's heart-warming for the families to know that their pets will be safe and reunited."
She said many women don't want to stay because the refuge doesn't take in animals. Besides cats and dogs, pets have included goats, birds and even a lizard. Only last week, a woman had sought their services after the car she had been living in was stolen and she was forced to sleep in a tent. However, she had her late mother's 19-year-old dog, which she couldn't part with. The police were working with her to find temporary homing.
A Tryphina House spokeswoman said it was working with 250 families and leaving pets behind was preventing women leaving their homes.
"[Pet Refuge] is a great service. Particularly if they do transport as, from our point of view, transporting the pets to Auckland would be really difficult for us."
She said, although the SPCA offered short-stay accommodation for up to a week, some women ended up returning to the situation they were trying to leave and others stayed in their cars.
SPCA general manager of operations Sam Powell said the SPCA has been working alongside police and Women's Refuge for many years to help animals caught up in family violence, and will continue to do so.
"SPCA works closely with Women's Refuge to help look after pets that are fleeing violent situations with their owners. While women and children are being cared for by Women's Refuge, SPCA will look after their pets until their owners are able to find a new, safe place to live. We have a nationwide network of centres which allows us to ensure that animals can stay as close to their families as possible while they're in our care. Each year, SPCA helps more than 35,000 animals across New Zealand and we will continue to work closely with police and other agencies to ensure animals that are removed from family violence situations are well cared for, no matter where in New Zealand, due to our network of centres."
Pet Refuge has been designed to give animals comfort and security; there are no wire cages - the dog enclosures are built of glass with underfloor heating with an outdoor area attached. The "cat condos" are specially designed to give cats a space to sleep, play and feel secure. There are outdoor play and enrichment areas complete with climbing structures for cats, a dog swimming pool, an obstacle course, and beds for lounging in the sun. The walls are painted in warm and calming colours with a large mural.
"The shelter has been built with the highest standard of animal welfare in mind," Chapman said. "Our philosophy is that the animals will spend as little time in their enclosures as possible so they can enjoy the play and enrichment areas. We have expert staff, veterinarians on call, and we will provide therapy for pets traumatised by violence. We will care for these animals as if they were our own."
The animals are referred to Pet Refuge from police and family violence agencies including Women's Refuge, Shine and Family Action Network with suitable pickup points decided per individual case.
Police National Headquarters harm reduction prevention manager Inspector Natasha Allan said: "Police are pleased to support the opening of Pet Refuge. This is another step forward to providing crucial supports to those experiencing family harm.
"We know that it will help those who may otherwise have stayed in unsafe situations due to a strong attachment to their pet and their concerns that if they leave them behind, they may be harmed or killed. This discreet service, designed for the care and protection of pets when their owners leave a violent, unsafe home, will reassure victims that their pets will be safe and reduce trauma while they find safety for themselves and their whānau."
A 2018 Women's Refuge survey of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets found 73 per cent of respondents said their partner had kicked a pet or farm animal, 49 per cent said they had hit them with an object, 23 per cent said their partner had killed a pet or farm animal, 41 per cent said they or their children were made to watch a pet or farm animal being harmed, and 22 per cent returned to a relationship because their partner threatened the safety of their pets or farm animals.
Pet Refuge is the second charity launched by Chapman, the founder and CEO of KidsCan, which helps children in hardship. After her parents died, she used the money from the sale of their home to purchase the land for the shelter.
"I wish they could see it. They'd be very happy that the money they left is doing something which could be life-changing for these animals and their owners."
The shelter needs support from the public to pay for operating costs. Kiwis can help by signing up to the Safe Beds for Pets monthly giving programme - $25 a month will give a pet a safe bed, by providing pets with security, bedding, heating, transport, medications, vet healthcare, enrichment toys, animal behavioural therapy, and the cost of expert animal carers, case workers and support staff. To donate $25 a month, or make a one-off donation, go to www.petrefuge.org.nz or call (09) 975 0850.
If you need help now, call the Women's Refuge crisis line on 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843. If you are in immediate danger, please call 111. For help with an animal, call Pet Refuge 0800 PET REFUGE/0800 738 733 843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org