Police are bracing themselves for a big spike in domestic violence — including threats to harm family pets — as the festive season draws nearer.
Every Christmas family violence escalates and this year is no different with police already starting to notice an increase in the number of cases coming in on a daily basis.
Many of them involve a violent partner abusing, or threatening to harm, pets as a way of controlling their partner or preventing them from leaving the relationship.
"For many families, Christmas is not a happy or festive time of year. The financial stress of Christmas can have a major impact on people's wellbeing," Detective Inspector Kelly Farrant from Waitematā's Whāngaia Nga Pa Harakeke, a police initiative where police and iwi work together to reduce family harm.
"Additional family visiting, children and others home from school or work, increased alcohol consumption and spending, potentially overlaid by any impacts or concerns around Covid and it's possible we will see an even greater increase as we look towards 2021. And it's not just people affected — pets can bear the brunt of violence too."
A Women's Refuge survey found a fear for their beloved pet's safety is one reason people delay leaving their abuser.
That's why KidsCan founder Julie Chapman is opening New Zealand's first Pet Refuge shelter which will temporarily care for animals so their owners can escape an abusive relationship without worrying about what will happen to their beloved pet.
The Herald helped raise $300,000 towards the internal fitout of the shelter during a campaign last year and is today supporting Pet Refuge's first Christmas appeal.
To donate visit www.petrefuge.org.nz or call 09 975 0850.
Chapman, who used family money to buy the land for the shelter, said the charity was hoping to raise $200,000 for running costs — things like food, bedding and blankets, toys and exercise equipment, medication, transport, vets' fees and paying expert animal carers, case workers and support staff.
Leanne McSkimming, director of the Integrated Safety Response to Family Violence, said pets are a common reason why people don't leave a violent relationship.
"There's not a week that goes by that we don't see pets used as manipulation or a control — 'If you leave I'm going to hurt the pet' — or a pet actually being injured in an episode of family harm," she said.
"It's a significant barrier to victims leaving because they don't want to leave their pet, for fear that their pet will be killed."
McSkimming, who is based in Christchurch, said police in the city were already seeing the cases rise with around 40 family violence cases coming in each day, including a spike in calls where animal abuse is involved.
Chapman said the charity is launching the Christmas appeal to fund the shelter's running costs, so that when the building is finished next year it can open its doors immediately.
"Pet Refuge will be a temporary safe haven for pets while their owners find a violence-free home," she said.
"We know that right now victims are staying in dangerous relationships because they can't take their pets with them to a safe house, and they fear they will be harmed if they leave them behind. Our shelter will care for their pets until they can be reunited.
"More than 100 victims have reached out to us for help already, at a really scary time for them, so we can't open our doors soon enough — but we need the public to help us do that," said Chapman. "No one should have to lead a life of abuse."
The refuge will temporarily house cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds from around the country, allowing their owners to leave urgently and have time to find new accommodation without worrying about leaving their pets behind.
The Women's Refuge research found 53 per cent of victims whose partners had abused or threatened to abuse their pets delayed leaving a violent relationship.
Nearly a quarter had had an animal killed by their partner and nearly three-quarters said they would have found it easier to leave if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their pets.
The shelter is modelled on one in Sydney where the number of requests for help increased by just over a third last December and January.
Auckland police say family harm is up 18.3 per cent in the last 12 months, with officers attending 47,604 episodes, up from 40,244. They often see a spike from Boxing Day, with victims waiting until Christmas is over to get help.
Will care for pets from around the country so victims of family violence can flee at anytime without worrying about their animals being harmed if they were left behind.
JUNE 2019: Herald readers helped raise $300,000 for the internal fitout - things like a play area, aviary, chew proof beds and kitty litter.
MARCH 2020: Construction begins. So far it's taken about 30,000 nails, 4,500m of timber, 457 square metres of roofing, 70 litres of paint 7,650 bricks, 120 square metres of glass and 14,219-man hours. With the shelter now fully clad the internal fitout is about to begin
NOV 2020: Christmas Appeal, aiming to raise $200,000 for running costs, launches.
MID 2021: Estimated opening date
To donate visit www.petrefuge.org.nz or call 09 975 0850.
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
• For men who feel they're going to harm a loved one call 0800 HEY BRO or 0800 439 276