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Women stay in abusive relationships out of fear for pets – new research

Pet Refuge: Founder Julie Chapman. Image: Supplied

Women stay in abusive relationships out of fear for pets – new research

Fear for pets’ safety a significant barrier to women escaping family violence.

Women stay in abusive relationships out of fear for pets – new research

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. 

The initiative comes as new research from Women’s Refuge reveals harrowing stories of animal abuse. The charity surveyed women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets. 23% said their partner had killed an animal. 53% said they delayed leaving the relationship out of fear for an animal’s safety.

“Essentially, the pet becomes yet another mechanism for the abuser to use, and pets are frequently harmed or even killed in order to assert power and further traumatise victims,”  Women’s Refuge CEO Dr Ang Jury says. “It is yet another means for a controlling partner to exercise that control.”

Pet Refuge is the brainchild of Julie Chapman, Founder and CEO of children’s charity KidsCan. “For many people, pets are family. For victims of domestic violence, they provide real solace. Leaving them behind with an abusive partner just isn’t an option. We hope that if victims know their pets will be well looked after while they escape, it will remove a barrier to them leaving.”

Modelled on the RSPCA New South Wales’ successful domestic violence programme, Pet Refuge will transport small animals from around New Zealand to the shelter, and develop a national network of safe farms to care for larger farm animals. 

Chapman lost both her parents in the last 5 years. She used the money from the sale of their home to purchase land for Pet Refuge. With further private donations, construction is now underway with build partner, Signature Homes, who have also designed the shelter.  It is due for completion in early 2020, but the charity needs the public’s help to complete the internal fitout.

“What we will have soon is the outer shell of the shelter, and we need people to contribute to the real heart of that: the internal pet enclosures, bedding, toys, food, the health clinic and play areas,” she says. “It will mean we can create a calm, comforting environment for traumatised pets.”

Pet Refuge has partnered with Women’s Refuge to assist pets via referrals. “Women’s Refuge enables victims and families to remove themselves in a time of crisis. Pet Refuge will be key to helping facilitate victims’ safety, as the new service will remove one of the many barriers for victims by providing their pets a loving temporary home during times of crisis,” Senior Sergeant Fiona Roberts, NZ Police’s National Family Harm Coordinator, says.

New Zealand has the highest rate of reported family violence in the OECD, and the second highest rate of pet ownership globally. When the two co-exist, animals can pay a large price. The survey respondents shared stories of pets being shot, assaulted, starved and tortured:

    “He strangled my cats almost on a daily basis and wouldn’t feed them if I wasn’t there.”

    “He took my two sons (aged 5 and 8)… and shot the pups dead while the boys watched.”

    “He threatened to slit the dogs’ throats if I left.”

“This research is extremely important, despite the accounts of victims being distressing, and highlights that for many women living with abusive intimate partners, animals are not exempt from the abuse taking place in the household,” Dr Jury says. 

For more information visit petrefuge.org.nz

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