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, as part of a three-day series, we announce the launch of the first Pet Refuge, a service that will remove that barrier for women looking to escape domestic violence.

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

Hundreds of domestic violence victims stay with abusers because they fear what will happen to their pets, new Women's Refuge research reveals.

They are terrified their animals will be hurt, tortured or killed if they leave - and many are lured back under those threats.

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But a new shelter is set to open which will house animals while their owners leave violent homes - and it's likely to save lives.

The research was based on a survey of nearly 1000 domestic violence victims who had experienced a partner abusing or threatening a pet. Just over 50 per cent of those surveyed delayed leaving their partner because of their pets.

Forty-one per cent of victims said they or their children had been made to watch their pet or another animal be harmed by their partner.

The abuse described was horrendous - animals punched, kicked, strangled, thrown, drowned, stabbed, put in microwaves, run over; often while victims watched on, powerless to help them.

Many of the victims, mostly women, shared examples as part of the survey.

"I witnessed seven kittens suffering and being killed [as a result of me] disobeying him or standing up to him," said one woman.

Another said her ex threatened to slit her dog's throats if she left him.

Victims said they would have left their abusers much earlier had there been a safe place for pets.

Most refuges in New Zealand cannot house animals and victims more often than not can't afford boarding fees.

But the new shelter will be totally free of charge and will provide a safe place for pets until their owners find safe violence-free accommodation.

It will house cats, dogs, birds and other small animals.

Larger animals will be looked after at one of a network of safe farms.

Pet Refuge is the brainchild of KidsCan founder and chief executive Julie Chapman.

Julie Chapman is launching Pet Refuge, a shelter that will house animals while victims of domestic violence leave abusers and find safe homes. Photo / Michael Craig
Julie Chapman is launching Pet Refuge, a shelter that will house animals while victims of domestic violence leave abusers and find safe homes. Photo / Michael Craig

Chapman, who has had her own experience with domestic violence, was horrified when she heard about the issue of pet abuse within domestic harm and approached the Women's Refuge to partner with her on the initiative.

New Zealand has the worst recorded rate of domestic violence in the developed world and while the majority of victims are women - men and transgender Kiwis also experience abuse.

"By accident I heard about the situation about pets needing somewhere to go when women go into a refuge and that it was a big issue," said Chapman.

"As I delved more into it I realised that there was a gap in service and so that was my lightbulb moment.

"The whole reason for doing this is to help women and men who are in these situations be able to get out and create a safe place for their pets.

"I can't stand domestic violence and I can't stand animal abuse."

Using money left to her after her parents died in 2014, Chapman purchased a block of land in the Auckland area.

Chapman said while the land and outer building were covered, help was needed to fund the fit out the shelter for the pets.

She hoped New Zealanders would get behind the Pet Refuge and donate the $250,000 needed for bedding, toys, enclosures, play areas, health supplies and everything else the animals would need to be as comfortable as possible.

"There are a lot of different things going on which prevent women from leaving domestic violence and not wanting to leave their animals behind is one of them," she said.

"Our position is, let's remove the barrier so we can make it easier for them to leave.

"Pets become like family and quite frankly you wouldn't leave anyone in your family behind, would you?"


Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said the research and shelter were "extremely important".

"We have routinely run across women who placed themselves in ongoing danger because they just could not bear the thought of leaving their pet behind, no matter what happened to them," she said.

"This is a service that's needed, it's something I think that's going to make a difference to some women."

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 or 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