Pet Refuge is a new charity that has already helped hundreds of families – and their pets! – to escape violent homes. So, why are they so in demand, and what can you do to help?
It’s one hell of a horrible statistic, and one that only gets worse the more you think about it: 53% of women who are in a violent, unsafe, relationship, stay because they won’t leave the family pet behind.
In New Zealand our rate of domestic violence and family harm is hideously shameful – it’s the worst in the OECD. One in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. When psychological/emotional abuse is included, 55% have experienced IPV in their lifetime (Fanslow & Robinson, 2011).
And unfortunately, much of the dialogue we have about IPV (if we discuss it at all) is centred on why women stay in these relationships, rather than addressing the real issue: why these men behave the way they do and how we put a halt to this cycle of violence.
One woman, Julie Chapman, who is passionate about helping others – and animals – has seen a way that she can help women and children, along with their pets, caught up in this violence. Julie is the founder and CEO of Kidscan, and has now founded a new charity, Pet Refuge.
It’s horrifying to think about – and, I’ll spare you some of the more gruesome details – but pets are often used to manipulate, control, punish and terrify women and children in abusive homes. Hideously, this violence often takes place in front of the children, which leaves psychological scars that last a lifetime. Women are also often threatened that if they leave, the pet will be subject to further abuse, or be killed. “We know from our research that around 24% of women in IPV have had a pet killed at the hands of an abusive partner,” says Julie.
But leaving a violent home is difficult – and dangerous. And those women who are able to get out, maybe to a friend or family’s house, or to emergency housing or a women’s refuge, often can’t take their pets with them. When they look for more permanent housing options, finding a rental that accepts pets is incredibly difficult.
That’s where Pet Refuge and Julie Chapman come in.
Her doors opened in July 2021 and already she has taken in more than 370 animals to help families reset their lives.
Julie had been thinking about the project for some time, after first spending time working at Women’s Refuge and then at Kidscan.
“Through my work at Kidscan I became aware of the fact that animals are often used as a means of control and family violence situations,” says Julie. “When I delved into that further I looked at previous research which showed there was a real need for some kind of solution to keep kids safe. We have the highest rate of family violence in the OECD and we have the second highest rate of pet ownership – so when you put those two facts together it absolutely makes sense that pets would be used as a tool to try to control family members.”
Then, eight years ago, both of Julie’s parents became unwell. Her mother suffered from Motor Neurone Disease, while her father had a long battle with cancer – they passed away within just six months of each other. “I’d said to Dad, ‘look, I really want to do something with the money that you guys are leaving me from the sale of the house,’” says Julie.
Her dream had always been to buy some land where she could keep animals, and with the help of her parents’ money, she could see it was within reach.
“We started Pet Refuge by using the funds that were left to me by my parents to help purchase some land,” says Julie. “My husband’s mum also chipped in, which was really pretty cool. We were then able to create an organisation and then set about raising the money to build a purpose-built facility that is a hone away from home for pets affected by family violence. It’s a place we can keep them safe, give them all the love, enrichment, behavioural therapy and recovery time after what they’ve been through. We can keep them safe until their families are able to secure their own housing and take them back.”
It’s hugely rewarding work for Julie, but the stories of abuse and harm often stay with her. “I makes me incredibly sad, but also incredibly angry as well,” she says. “You just have to find comfort in knowing that the person you’ve helped is now safe and the dog is safe, but, sometimes I do wonder about the people who inflict this cruelty – that they’re able to walk around and just get away with doing these things. Family violence happens behind closed doors. There are men out there who other people think are really great guys, but behind closed doors they are doing horrific things to their families. That’s why it’s so important to talk about this.”
The work that Julie and her team are doing at Pet Refuge is incredible, and so vital to helping families escape violence – but they need your help. Since word has got out about Pet Refuge, they have been inundated with referrals. There’s now a waitlist to get into the refuge.
“One of the challenges we’re finding right now is people being able to find pet-friendly rentals – that’s really difficult at the moment,” says Julie. “We have pets that are staying for four months while people look. We’re working with the Ministry of Social Development to try to partner around their social housing – Kāinga Ora does accept pets, which is wonderful.”
In order to keep up with the increasing demand, Pet Refuge needs donations. And, they’ve just made it super easy (and adorable) by partnering with Buzzy Bee. Yip, that iconic brand that’s been in the homes of Kiwis for more than 80 years. Pet Refuge and Buzzy Bee are releasing a range of pet toys, with 100% of the proceeds going straight to Pet Refuge.
Julie says it’s a partnership that just made sense to her. “I kind of thought, well, Buzzy Bees have been in so many homes, so buzzy bee has really seen the good and bad of Kiwi homes and what goes on behind closed doors.”
There are two toys available: a Buzzy Bee Dog Chew toy ($25) or a ridiculously cute Buzzy Bee Cat Wand ($16). They make perfect gifts for your pets for Christmas – or for a pet-loving friend or family member. It’s a great option for that office secret santa if your recipient has a pet!
To make a purchase, or to just donate to this very worth cause head to petrefugegifts.co.nz