Fresh research from Women's Refuge reveals a huge number of women delay leaving abusive relationships because they fear what will happen to their pets. Now we are to have the first Pet Refuge, a service that will remove that barrier for women looking to escape domestic violence. In this second instalment of a three-part 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.)
Casey grew up in a horrendously violent home.
Her mother, battling alcohol addiction, had a string of abusive partners.
Casey and her siblings had pets and when life at home got nasty, the animals would comfort the children and keep them "sane".
The worst of her mother's partners recognised that, and saw the animals as a way of hurting the family.
One day Casey walked out of the house to find a kitten dead on the doorstep. Her mother's partner had become angry and whacked the tiny animal with a broom.
In fact, he took to the animals regularly, whenever he was upset with his partner.
"It's devastating," said Casey, now an adult.
"You feel extremely powerless and distraught, just knowing there's nothing you can do to help your pets who are actually a family member."
Casey said one horrendous day the man grabbed her younger brother's dog and slit the animal's throat.
The dog did not die, and fled under the house injured and bleeding.
"He made my brother crawl under the house and grab the dog and bring it out.
"He also did things like dragging us out of bed at night to dig graves for animals."
The worst incident happened when her mother decided to move cities and leave the man.
"I heard a terrible chaos outside … He and his brother and cousin were running around joking and laughing and on a killing spree," she recalled.
"They were killing everything they could get their hands on - chickens, cats, dogs, puppies… we had a lot of pets because there were a few of us kids.
"They built a bonfire and piled all of our little friends one on top of the other and they just set them on fire … it was horrific.
"I don't understand that kind of cruelty … it was all about power and control."
Casey still feels the pain of her violent childhood.
"The feelings are still there and they will always be there, it's always with you," she said.
"That look when your pets look at you like 'help me' and you can do nothing about it … It's pretty horrible."
She said children in abusive homes often had little more to comfort them than their pets.
The option of a refuge to keep them safe until a family could set up a new violence-free home was brilliant, she thought.
"People don't know where to turn when it comes to pets, they often get put down or left at the mercy of abusers - what's being made available, I think it's fantastic.
"Pets are part of the family, it would just be amazing for the children to have a place to keep them safe - I know I would have been so overwhelmed at the thought that my pets were safe and out of harm's way, but also that we could be reunited.
"I just hope people will take advantage of such a great facility. Losing pets in those circumstances is so devastating, on top of everything else that's going on - it's demoralising, especially for children."
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 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
A look inside New Zealand's first Pet Refuge