Pet Refuge appeal: Abusive partner threatened to harm pets to control her

A shelter that will care for pets so victims of family violence can flee without worrying about their animals being harmed will open next year. Today the Herald supports the launch of the Pet Refuge Christmas appeal to raise money for the shelter’s running costs.

Claire had suffered at the hands of a violent partner for 15 years before she found thecourage to leave for good.

There were several things that kept her from permanently fleeing the relationship — the fact she owned the home they lived in, the desire to try and protect children and a grandchild who came to visit and the fear of what he’d do to their pets if she did.

The grandmother had plenty of friends and family but wouldn’t have been able to take her dogs and leaving without them wasn’t an option she was willing to consider.

“It was mainly my animals that kept me there and the fact it was my own house,” she said.

“He tried to control me by being mean to the animals and that happened all the time — one time he threatened to kill the animals.”

Claire, who doesn’t want to be identified, suffered in silence for many years.

“I didn’t want anyone to know how weak and stupid I was. I had nowhere to go, where I could take my dogs and cat with me.”

While there was physical violence — being held by her throat in the hallway, knocked to the floor and held down with his hands around her throat, beaten in a car — she said most of the abuse was emotional and involved constant putdowns, name-calling, criticisms and threatening behaviour.

“His actions towards the dogs was always about control over me.”

The constant abuse left her “browbeaten and cowering in the corner like an animal”.

“I was fearful and never knew what kind of mood he’d be in. My only strength was ‘you might do that to me but you won’t do it to the animals’.”

Like many victims of family violence, Claire said the festive season was horrible — her partner, a large man, was also worse when he had been drinking.

She spent most Christmas days sneaking away to the toilet and crying as family celebrated in the living room, unaware of the threats and constant putdowns he was quietly whispering in her ear when no one was looking.

She recalls one Christmas when they visited his family in another city.

He refused to let the dogs inside, even though the family didn’t mind, and instead tied them up outside.

When they wouldn’t stop barking, he went out and beat them.

“When he belted them with the leads, I thought I was going to be sick … they were very, very traumatised,” she recalls.

“I knew at that point if I had somewhere for my dogs to go then I would have jumped on a plane and come home and had the strength to say ‘you’re not coming back’.”

It’s for that reason she is so supportive of Pet Refuge and the Christmas appeal being launched today, which will provide temporary accommodation for pets from violent homes.

“I’m just so, so passionately supportive of them because I know it will make a massive difference to people if they are in a [abusive] relationship and have pets.”

Claire, who ended up being able to take the dogs with her when she left, said she was often asked by people why she had put the animals’ safety over hers.

“I guess they were like my children. They were a loved part of the family.

“I’d rather he smashed methan smashed an innocent life, whether it was an animal or child.”


Pet Refuge will care for pets from around the country so victims of family violence can flee at anytime without worrying about their animals being harmed if they were left behind.

JUNE 2019: Herald readers helped raise $300,000 for the internal fitout- things like a play area, aviary, chew-proof beds and kitty litter.

MARCH 2020: Construction begins. So far it’s taken about 30,000 nails, 4500m of timber, 457 square metres of roofing, 70 litres of paint 7650 bricks, 120 square metres of glass and 14,219 man hours. With the shelter now fully clad, the internal fitout is about to begin

NOV 2020: Christmas Appeal, aiming to raise $200,000 for running costs, launches.

MID 2021: Estimated opening date.

To donate visit or call 09 975 0850.


If you’re in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don’t stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Shine, free national helpline 9am-11pm every day – 0508 744 633
• Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 – 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450
• For men who feel they’re going to harm a loved one call 0800 HEY BRO or 0800 439 276

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