Pet Refuge opened its doors in July 2021 to provide temporary shelter to pets affected by domestic violence, and reduce a major barrier to woman, men and children leaving abuse.
Julie Chapman has always loved animals and children. In fact, this former marketeer is now dedicating her life to helping them. She has already made a mark with her work as Founder and CEO of the children’s charity KidsCan, which she began in her garage in 2005.
This fantastic organisation helps support one in six New Zealand children in need and gives these tamariki necessary access to essentials for learning. Over five million items of food, clothing, shoes and health products are sent to children in more than 1,000 schools and early childhood centres each year.
A clear change-maker and charitable dynamo, Chapman has twelve rescue cats of her own (including one blind and one deaf feline) and is now opening her arms to help animals in need. She has recently added becoming CEO of Pet Refuge to her impressive charitable portfolio.
The animal lover was heartbroken to discover animals of domestic violence victims were likely to become victims at the hands of abusers, and that women were not seeking help because there was simply nowhere for them to house their beloved pets safely while they escaped a dangerous situation.
Chapman says, “When I learned that some people experiencing family violence delay leaving out of fear, I felt driven to help. I’d already had experience implementing charitable initiatives in relation to social issues with KidsCan, so I developed a plan.”
The goal is to help families leave, by giving them an opportunity to escape abuse without worrying about the well-being of their cherished pets. It also means controlling partners can no longer use these animals as pawns, torturing and even at times killing pets with a feeble goal of maintaining control.
“For many people, pets are family,” Chapman adds. “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.”
Pet Refuge NZ is modelled on the RSPCA New South Wales’ successful domestic violence support system. The pet charity has partnered in New Zealand with Women’s Refuge, Shine, Shakti, Police and Victim Support to assist pets via referrals.
When Chapman lost both of her parents within the same year, she used her inheritance to purchase land to make Pet Refuge a reality. It has been more than four years of hard work to open the doors and is a mission close to her heart, after she too experienced the deep trauma of family violence firsthand in her 20s.
Since opening on the outskirts of Auckland in July 2021, Pet Refuge has been a rural safe haven for over 150 pets including rabbits, birds, cats and dogs who were all impacted by family violence. So far, more than 97 pets have been reunited with their owners or gone to forever homes, and 50 are currently boarding. An estimated 75 pets can be looked after at one time and the expectation is an estimated 300 pets will be looked after each year.
Pets and animals are reunited once their owners are back on their feet so they can continue to recover and create a happier future together. Knowing there are also beloved horses, goats and even sheep who need protection, Chapman has forged a network of safe farms around the country to also safely home larger animals.
“Mostly we hear about what a relief it is to know that a loved pet will be cared for,” Chapman adds. “It takes another stress away and enables people to get back on their feet when they have so much else to deal with. Sadly, I knew there’d be a need for Pet Refuge when we opened the doors, but it is far greater than we ever could have imagined.”
More help is desperately needed
Unfortunately, the prediction is the need for help will continue to grow, with New Zealand Police predicting a 35% rise in family harm by 2025, which means there will be an expected call for help from a family harm victim every 2.5 minutes.
These sobering statistics below are from a 2018 Women’s Refuge survey of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets:
- 22% returned to a relationship because their partner threatened the safety of their pets or farm animals.
- 23% said their partner had killed a pet or farm animal
- 41% said they or their children were made to watch a pet or farm animal being harmed
- 49% said they had hit their pet with an object
- 53% delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pet or farm animals’ safety
- 73% of respondents said their partner had kicked a pet or farm animal
- 73% would have found it easier to leave an abusive relationship if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their animals.
For safer pets and safer families, donate at petrefuge.org.nz or call 09 975 0850. A donation of $25 a month to the Safe Beds for Pets program provides a pet with everything they need.
Escaping domestic violence is hard. Escaping with a pet is even harder. Help give a pet a safe for $25 per month. To learn more, click to watch the video below.
All images: Courtesy of Pet Refuge Charitable Trust
This is a sponsored article produced in partnership with Pet Refuge Charitable Trust.