Pet Refuge, the country’s first shelter dedicated to caring for pets affected by family violence, has opened its doors. The refuge was built to help victims who might delay leaving abusive relationships because they have nowhere to take their animals.
Pet Refuge founder Julie Chapman says “sadly, Pet Refuge was desperately needed”.
“We have horrifying rates of family violence in New Zealand, and pets often bear the brunt of that. Animals are harmed or threatened by perpetrators to control their victims. Victims are staying in dangerous situations because they can’t take pets to a safe house, and fear they’ll be hurt or killed if they leave them behind.”
The charity transports pets from around New Zealand to its rural Auckland location, where expert care is provided until owners find a safe place to live.
A Women’s Refuge survey of victims who had experienced animal abuse in the past found 53 per cent delayed leaving out of fear for their animals’ safety, and 73 per cent said they would have found it easier to leave if there had been a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their animals.
“Since we announced our plans, we have had more than 100 inquiries for help, so we know there is a significant need for our service,” Julie says.
"Pet Refuge will make it easier for abuse victims with pets to leave sooner. The shelter will be a safe haven for animals until they can be reunited with their owners in a violence-free home."
The purpose-built shelter houses up to 75 animals (dogs, cats, birds and other small pets) at any given time. Animals can stay for as long as the service is needed. Larger animals, such as horses, cows, sheep and goats, are cared for via a network of regional safe farms.
Pet Refuge has been designed to give animals comfort and security. There are no wire cages. The dog enclosures are built of glass with underfloor heating and an outdoor area. 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. The walls of the enclosures are painted in warm and calming colours, and include a large mural by artist Evie Kemp.
“The shelter has been built with the highest standard of animal welfare in mind,” Julie says.
“Our philosophy is that the animals spend as little time in their enclosures as possible so they can enjoy the play and enrichment areas. We have expert staff, veterinarians on call, and we provide therapy for pets traumatised by violence. We care for these animals as if they were our own.”
The animals are referred to Pet Refuge by the police and family violence agencies including Women’s Refuge, Shine and Family Action Network.
“Police are pleased to support the opening of Pet Refuge. This is another step forward to providing crucial support to those experiencing family harm,” says Inspector Natasha Allan, Prevention Manager Harm Reduction at Police National Headquarters.
“We know that it will help those who may otherwise have stayed in unsafe situations due to a strong attachment to their pet and their concerns that if they leave them behind, they may be harmed or killed. This discreet service, designed for the care and protection of pets when their owners leave a violent, unsafe home, will reassure victims that their pets will be safe and reduce trauma while they find safety for themselves and their whānau.”
Women’s Refuge has supported Pet Refuge since its inception. “We are pleased this service can be provided to assist women experiencing family and domestic violence in Aotearoa. We know that having pets makes it harder for people to remove themselves and their children from violent households. With the opening of Pet Refuge this is one more barrier that can be removed,” chief executive Dr Ang Jury says.
Pet Refuge is the second charity launched by Julie, who is also the founder and CEO of KidsCan, which helps children in hardship. After Julie’s parents died, she used the money from the sale of their home to purchase the land for the pet shelter.
“I wish they could see it. They’d be very happy that the money they left is doing something which could be life-changing for these animals and their owners,” she says.
The shelter needs ongoing support from the public to pay for operating costs. Kiwis can help by signing up to the Safe Beds for Pets™ programme, where giving $25 a month will ensure a pet a safe bed. The money goes towards costs of providing a pet with security, bedding, heating, transport, medications, vet healthcare, enrichment toys, animal behavioural therapy, and the assistance of expert animal carers, case workers and support staff.
To donate $25 a month, or make a one-off donation, visit petrefuge.org.nz or call 09 975 0850.