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.
I should have listened to my dog.
Right off the bat, my dog knew. He'd snarl at him and bark at him and didn't like him at all.
We were very close, the dog and I. I just loved him.
He chose me. I'd gone to the pet shop, and he jumped up on my lap and looked me in the eyes and that was it. He was very cute, very loving. We were pals.
I'm not your stereotypical victim of domestic violence. I'm white. I'm well off.
But abuse doesn't discriminate. And sometimes they can hide it more easily when they're dressed in a suit and a tie.
I can remember the shock the first time he struck me across the face.
It turns out, there doesn't have to be much of a trigger. If he didn't like something, anything, he lashed out.
The verbal abuse was constant. He'd call me 'stupid' all the time. He said my parents hadn't brought me up well.
He'd beat me. He'd come up from behind and strangle me, pulling me onto the floor. He knew how to do it so he didn't leave marks.
Our pets weren't immune. He was jealous of the dog because the dog loved me, and so it would often be the first thing he attacked.
He wouldn't just kick it, he would slam it against the wall, laughing.
It didn't matter if the kids were there. And now this is forever a memory for them.
I'd put myself in the middle, but I always got beaten.
It got to the point where I had to give my dog away, or he would have been killed. I was absolutely devastated. He just got another dog, and beat her instead.
It's their everything to have control over you.
He restricted me from my friends.
He'd listen to my conversations when anybody called. If it was my parents he'd be motioning to stop the conversation or I'd be in trouble.
He put a GPS tracker on my phone. I just felt like he had 100 pairs of eyes everywhere. I was always on edge. I never felt safe.
I know people will be thinking "well why didn't you just leave him?"
That question is the most awful question you could ask a victim, because there are so many reasons why.
I wasn't ready to believe that he didn't love me. I wasn't ready to admit failure.
I'd think, "am I the one in the wrong? Am I the one that's not trying hard enough, being kind enough?"
I had no one to talk to, nowhere to go. He said that no one would believe me, and he'd take the kids.
And then there were the pets. When you imagine leaving, you're thinking "okay. What's going to happen with the kids? Where are we going to go? What about the animals? How am I going to take the cat and the dog and the kids? How am I going to pack them all up? I can't. But if I leave the pets, who will feed them? Will he kill them like he's threatened to?"
It all felt too hard. Because at the end I felt like my soul had been drained from my body. I was a walking vacuum. A shell. I looked like me, but there was no one home.
Eventually, I found the strength. When he started telling my kids they were stupid and dumb, I had to get out. I couldn't have them being controlled like I was.
And of course, the pets were being scarred, too. My dog wanted to protect me, and he couldn't.
They go through it all with you.
We need to talk about pet abuse and family violence.
These abusers need to be made to realise this behaviour is not normal, not okay.
Maybe the more it's denounced and frowned on, then the less likely that the abuser will feel untouchable in their community.
I should have listened to my dog.
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 ADD PHONE HERE
• 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
Why victims won't leave without their pets
A look inside New Zealand's first Pet Refuge