by Lauren Hale
A 2018 Women’s Refuge survey of victims who had experienced animal abuse found that 53% delayed fleeing violent situations out of fear for their pet’s safety.
As an answer to this, the charity Pet Refuge has been set up to offer safe shelters for small or large pets – and even offer a solution for farm animals.
Founder and trustee Julie Chapman said her experience with the KidsCan charity, along with her love of animals, made her aware of New Zealand’s domestic violence statistics.
The 2018 survey showed that 73% would have found it easier to leave if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their pets (most refuges can’t take animals and many landlords don’t allow dogs or cats). Julie knew she had to do something, so she used money left to her from her parents to buy the land for the first Pet Refuge shelter in New Zealand.
Glenda Hughes is a regional councillor with experience in police work, charities, criminology, sociology and chairing other organisations. Julie has worked with her at KidsCan for nearly 15 years and knew she’d be an ideal chairperson for Pet Refuge.
For 18 years from the age of 20 Glenda was attending domestic violence situations as a policewoman and often noticed animals cowering in the corner.
“In those days there was no real support for the police officer attending and a young 20-year-old trying to tell adults how to live their lives wasn’t much fun,” says Glenda.
Both Glenda and Julie said that often the most stable thing a victim of violence has in their life is their pet. The bond between owners and their animals, especially children, makes them part of the family. The decision to leave or stay will sway in favour of the animals.
The newly opened shelter can house 75 animals at a time and has skilled staff on hand to care for them. Five dogs and six cats are already being cared for, with two pets reunited with their owners after they found a safe place to live. The location of the shelter is not disclosed publicly for the protection and safety of the animals, staff and pet owners.
Julie and the Pet Refuge board have thought everything through including travel costs, veterinary needs and a place for larger animals. Two of the dogs staying in the shelter are from Christchurch.
“When women in particular are trying to leave family violence, finances can be very tight. It’s easy for us to get pets on a plane if we need to; for larger animals we can work with transport agencies to offer a safe way of transport,” Julie says.
Cows are the third most abused animal after dogs and cats, so Julie knew she had to do something to cater for rural New Zealanders and their love for larger animals.
Pet Refuge has started a network of Safe Farms where larger animals can stay temporarily. More than 50 people have offered their farms and have gone through, or will go through, property inspections and police checks.
“I think the issue for rural New Zealand is that they feel that urban New Zealand don’t care about them, and I’m worried about the feelings farmers are getting about that divide. Often, it’s an isolated life which can lead to all sorts of personal issues with nowhere to go and a weaker support system. They can’t reach people the same,” says Glenda.
Both Julie and Glenda hope to open a second shelter now that demand is proven.
Their message is that no matter where you are or what your situation, Pet Refuge will do whatever it can to help.
• Read more about the ‘Safe Beds for Pets’ programme, donate, or ask for help at petrefuge.org.nz