The first shelter for pets harmed by, or at risk of family violence is opening its doors.
The purpose-built Pet Refuge is able take up to 75 animals at a time, keeping them safe until they can be reunited with owners.
Until now, there has been no dedicated facility for animals to go, when their owners are trying to escape abusive situations.
Pet Refuge founder Julie Chapman said they can look after cats, dogs, birds and other small pets from across the country. Larger animals can be cared for via a network of safe farms.
“We will take in pets and care for them as though they were our own until they can be reunited with their owners once they find a safe place to live, free from violence.”
Pets often bore the brunt of New Zealand’s high rates of family violence, Chapman said.
“Animals are harmed or threatened by perpetrators to control their victims.
“Victims are staying in dangerous situations because they cannot take pets to a safe house, and fear they’ll be hurt or killed if they leave them behind.”
A Women’s Refuge survey of victims who had experienced animal abuse found just over half delayed leaving out of fear for their animals’ safety.
Almost three-quarters said they would have found it easier to leave if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their animals.
Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury hopes the Pet Refuge will remove one of the barriers for women wanting to leave violent situations.
“A key reason a lot of women didn’t get out of a situation when they could have was because they had pets or farm animals that they knew were at risk and they had nowhere to take them, so they stayed.”
For many women, their pets are one of their few comforts, Jury said.
“Some of the threats that are made against those animals or some of the treatment is meted out to those animals is something that they just can’t stomach.”
Claire* found herself in an abusive relationship, which eventually turned violent.
There were two things that prevented her from leaving over the years she was there: “One was the dogs, priority, the second was money. I didn’t have the money to buy him out of my house and I wasn’t leaving my house to him.”
Claire said there was an incident, one Christmas, where her former partner tied her dogs up outside and beat them – because they had barked.
“If I could’ve rung up Pet Refuge, ‘come and get my dogs today’, I would have been able to leave that day, which was about 18 months before I did actually leave.”
There are no wire cages at the shelter.
The dog enclosures are built of glass with underfloor heating and an outdoor area attached.
The ‘cat condos’ are specially designed to give cats a space to sleep, play and feel secure.
There are outdoor play and enrichment areas complete with climbing structures for cats, a dog swimming pool, an obstacle course and beds for lounging in the sun.
Animals will be referred to Pet Refuge by police and family violence agencies, including Women’s Refuge, Shine and Family Action Network.
People can find out more or donate at petrefuge.org.nz.
*Not her real name