New research from Women's Refuge reveals a huge number of women delay leaving abusive relationships because they fear what will happen to their pets. Today we announce the launch of the first Pet Refuge, a service that will remove that barrier for women looking to escape domestic violence. As part of a three-day series on pets abused in domestic violence situations, we hear from victims about their experiences

TRIGGER WARNING: the following account contains descriptions of domestic violence. Please take care.

The little dog cried as the man snapped her neck back.

She was terrified, in pain and could not get out of the grip of his big hands.

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Stephanie sat in horror as her partner violently yanked at her beloved little dog Gremlin, trying to hurt or kill her.

"He tried to break her neck," said Stephanie, who did not want her last name published.

"She was crying and pretty upset, I kept on honking the car horn hoping that somebody would hear us, help…

"But we lived in a little country town so your business is yours and it's like 'we don't interfere'.

"It was a good hour or so before he decided he would let Gremlin go, she was hurt, there was nothing I could do for her except give her a cuddle and try to make her feel better."

Stephanie survived family violence in which the family pet was also abused. New Zealand Herald still from video by Dwayne Carey
Stephanie survived family violence in which the family pet was also abused. New Zealand Herald still from video by Dwayne Carey

Stephanie's partner was violent towards her too - he'd chase her in the car and try to run her over, chase her with an axe, assault her - but he was more psychologically abusive than anything.

He would hurt Gremlin, or threaten to, to control and manipulate her.

She was too afraid, her soul too destroyed, to fight back.

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"He regularly hurt the dog, little foot swipes here and there, that sort of thing," Stephanie said.

She wanted to leave but was perpetually torn.

"Everyone who's been through domestic violence knows the story - how they say they are sorry and they will never do it again… But it would happen again and again and again."

He convinced her she wasn't worth anything, that if she left him she would have nothing - she'd lose her home, business and everything else important to her.

And then there was Gremlin.

"I'd had Gremlin for such a long time and I wasn't going to part with her," Stephanie said.

"I would sooner stay and put up with all the crap that was going on as long as she was with me and safe.

"If there was a safe place I could have taken Gremlin I would have gone sooner."

Stephanie lived under her partner's reign of abuse and terror for years, too afraid to leave in case he killed her beloved dog. NZME file photograph
Stephanie lived under her partner's reign of abuse and terror for years, too afraid to leave in case he killed her beloved dog. NZME file photograph

Stephanie never told her friends and family about the abuse, but one day confided in her bank manager at an appointment.

The manager then helped her plan her escape.

"I found the courage somewhere… I hired a truck, I didn't know how to drive it, but I drove it," she said.

"I got myself out of that situation.

"But if there had been a place where I could have gone sooner and taken Gremlin to make sure she was okay, I would have done so."

Stephanie now lives a life free from violence.

She decided to share her story to support the pet refuge and to try and get the message across about family violence - how bad it can be and the complexities of leaving for victims.

"I see and hear comments all the time where people say 'oh why don't you just go?'" she said.

"It's not like that.

"I'm a fairly intelligent person but it's not as if I could just pack up and go and think 'oh well, that's it'.

"I was leaving a home, a business, everything. And he took away my self-esteem, he made me feel worthless.

"I felt as if I'd let my kids down, I'd let myself down - I was worried about letting him down.

"I had depression and it got worse when I was with him… I started to drink, it was easier to numb the pain and just get on with it.

"I would have left sooner if there had been a place for pets."

New Zealand's first shelter dedicated to housing pets affected by family violence is being built. Pet Refuge will provide a temporary safe haven for pets, while their owners escape abuse. But, your help is needed to make that happen.

To donate to the shelter build visit: PledgeMe

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Pet Refuge petrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz

PET REFUGE: THE SERIES

MONDAY

TUESDAY

Why victims won't leave without their pets

WEDNESDAY
A look inside New Zealand's first Pet Refuge