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.

She walked into the house after work and found her husband sitting holding the poker.

When she left that morning the solid metal bar was straight, but now it was bent, curved in the middle.

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"What the hell happened?" Emma asked him.

"Your dog wore it across his back, he was being an a**hole, barking and woke me up," was the reply.

Emma was shocked, but not surprised.

Their marriage had been violent from the start.

READ MORE: First Pet Refuge to open in NZ, helping victims of domestic violence house animals while they chase safety

He would beat Emma daily - sometimes all day - and once so severely that she suffered a miscarriage.

On top of the violence meted out to her, he also took to the pets.

It was his way of hurting her even more.

She witnessed him kick the dogs while wearing steel cap boots, throw the cats at walls, strike them with objects, hurt them with his hands.

"I tried several times to escape but I couldn't leave my babies," Emma said.

"He threatened to kill the animals if I left, there was no way I could let them go through that - they were all I had.

"If there had been somewhere I could have gone and taken them with me I would have left after six months instead of staying six years."

Emma's husband would emotionally abuse her, berating and insulting her constantly.

Her pets were the only source of comfort, love and protection in her horrible home.

"My dogs were loyal to me, they stuck by me through everything, they would try and get between me and my ex when he was beating me," she explained.

"I would scream at them to get away, I didn't want them to get hurt… I would take the beating for them."

"Every time I tried to leave he'd threaten to kill my babies and I couldn't do that to them so I had to stay - they were the only things keeping me alive."

The first pet refuge for animals living in homes where domestic violence is present has been launched.

Emma was so desperate to leave her husband she tried to take her own life.

She stopped herself because the thought of leaving her pets without protection was too much to bear.

"I just had to stay and put up with it."

Emma finally got out one weekend when her husband was away.

She'd found a friend who could take her and the animals and she packed up and fled.

Years later she still has nightmares about the abuse.

The pets she had in the marriage have died and she has a new dog - but the harm she witnessed and suffered is never far from her mind.

"I have nightmares about him coming to my house and killing my girl, about what he did to my other babies… it's so hard to deal with."

She said the new pet refuge was an "awesome" idea and believed it would help women in situations like hers leave much sooner.

"If it was there when I was going through this I wouldn't have been there as long as I was," she said.

"It's just so wrong that women have to go through this.

"My pets are my world, they are my children, they are part of the family and there's just no way you'd leave them there to get hurt."

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. We need your help.

To donate to the shelter build visit: http://pldg.me/petrefuge

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

WEDNESDAY

A look inside New Zealand's first Pet Refuge