Earlier this year New Zealanders threw their support - and money - behind a new shelter that will house pets while women leave violent relationships.

Pet Refuge is on track to open for business next year after more than $300,000 was raised through a crowdsourcing campaign launched by the Herald.

The refuge - the first of its kind - aims to remove one of the strongest barriers to women leaving abusive and unsafe homes.

A Women's Refuge survey found that 53 per cent of victims whose partners had abused or threatened to abuse their pets found, delayed leaving.

Pet Refuge will remove that barrier for many women and allow them to rebuild their lives while their pets are in a safe place.

Following White Ribbon Day yesterday - an annual event where men are encouraged to promote safe, healthy relationships within families and challenge each other on attitudes and behaviour that are abusive - a woman who lived in a violent home speaks out about her experience.

A woman who grew up in a violent home has spoken out about the abuse towards her family and pets. Photo / file
A woman who grew up in a violent home has spoken out about the abuse towards her family and pets. Photo / file

Three decades on, I still blame myself.

"You had better go in the garage and get your cat because he's going to kill it," my mother said to me, aged 11, as she came back into the house.

I don't think she believed he really would.

I certainly didn't think him capable of violence against a small kitten.

So I walked to the garage.

I walked - I should have run.

It's a burden I will carry forever.

READ MORE:
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He was one of those alcoholics who when he wasn't drinking he was a really nice person.

The alcohol just turned him into this crazy, jealous, paranoid, controlling guy, who was mentally and physically abusive to my mum.

She used to put me in the back room but I could hear them fighting and see the bruises on her afterwards.

He threw an ashtray at me once, but more often with me it was intimidation: yelling and abuse if you did something wrong, said something wrong or didn't do something quick enough.

At first, I thought it was normal.

I went to a friend's house once and her parents were all lovey dovey and nice and sweet and kind and I just thought, "what's wrong with them? Why are they not yelling at each other? Why are they not throwing things?"

You normalise it.

Animals were just objects to him.

He didn't have any appreciation of the companionship and the love that you can get from, and give to an animal.

I remember once he went up to my dog and kicked it really hard in the stomach.

It started wailing and I ran over to hug and kiss it and he started yelling at me, 'what are you teaching the dog? I've just kicked it because it did something wrong and now you're trying to make it better?'

I begged my mother to leave.

She was a strong, independent woman and I think she thought that because he was so lovely most of the time that she could change him, which is often what happens.

She's since told me it was also because it was her second marriage, and she felt ashamed that she'd failed again.

But one day, it came to a head.

A refuge for pets from homes with domestic violence will be built in Auckland. Photo / supplied
A refuge for pets from homes with domestic violence will be built in Auckland. Photo / supplied

My kitten Hope had done a wee in the garage - on a concrete floor - but that was enough to set him off.

He picked up my shoe and threw it as hard as he could.

I saw it just as I walked in. I just think if I'd been a bit quicker I could have stopped that from happening.

The sound of her crying, you just don't get that stuff out of your head.

I still have a scar on my wrist from when I held her on the way to the vet.

But it was too late.

Mum told the vet a lamp fell on her.

I knew the vet didn't believe her.

I remember her saying to me afterwards: "I always taught you not to lie and now here I am lying to cover up for what he did. Enough is enough."

Ironically, my kitten's name was Hope and I like to believe that as awful and traumatic as that incident was, my mum had hope because she was able to make the decision to leave.

I know if Pet Refuge had existed, I would have taken my cat and dog there.

It's kind of unbelievable we don't have something like this already, given our culture of violence in New Zealand.

I've heard many stories of how women get stuck, fearing for their animals - because they are like a member of the family.

It's just awful to think that somebody could hurt something so innocent and defenceless, as a blackmail tool, to make someone stay.

I hope Pet Refuge means other children don't experience what I did.

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Animals are one of the biggest barriers to women leaving abusive relationships, a survey this year showed. Photo / file
Animals are one of the biggest barriers to women leaving abusive relationships, a survey this year showed. Photo / file

I can see now that I was just a child, and the blame lies with him, but I have spent three decades blaming myself.

The trauma has never left me.

I still cry about it when I think of Hope's death, and I am 46 now.

I've still got a photo of her.

She didn't deserve that.

• The Pet Refuge shelter is currently under construction.

• The charity is still seeking support from the public - the more donations, the more they can help pets and people escape family violence.

• For more information, or to donate, visit www.petrefuge.org.nz

DO YOU NEED HELP?

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:

• Shine, free national helpline 9am-11pm every day - 0508 744 633; www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843; www.womensrefuge.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