New Zealand has the second-highest rate of pet ownership in the world (second only to our mates across the Tasman), and it’s no wonder why.
Our pets provide endless happiness. They’re silly, loving, warm, and often display an uncanny sense of emotional intelligence more sharply honed than their human counterparts.
And, as we discovered in our A Girl’s Best Friend spread in the Fashion Quarterly happiness issue (imagery below), when they’re on their best behaviour they make pretty darn cute models too. Around two-thirds of Kiwi households have a pet, and the amount of care and attention we lavish on them increases annually.
But this statistic overlaps with another, more troubling one: more than one in three Kiwi households experience domestic violence and, in some of these households, the family pet can become a focus of threats or abuse.
Julie Chapman, the founder of KidsCan—which focuses on helping Kiwi kids affected by poverty—has long wanted to address this issue. In 2019 she launched a nationwide appeal to raise funds to build New Zealand’s first shelter dedicated to temporarily housing pets affected by domestic violence—Pet Refuge.
In collaboration with Women’s Refuge, the charity surveyed almost 1000 Kiwi domestic abuse victims who had experienced a partner threatening or abusing a pet.
Of those, more than half reported that they had delayed leaving the abusive relationship out of fear for their pet’s safety. It was this tragic dynamic that convinced Julie to lead the charge in building Pet Refuge.
“I’m a huge animal lover, with cats, dogs, goats, and chickens. For me, my pets are like family,” Chapman says.
“For victims of domestic violence, they provide even more solace. Abusive partners are all too aware of this, and often threaten or hurt animals to trap victims into staying. Leaving pets behind with an abusive partner just isn’t an option.”
That’s why Chapman is so gratified as the Pet Refuge team approaches their most critical milestone: the imminent opening of the newly completed refuge.
The groundbreaking new shelter is equipped to house up to 300 pets every year, including cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds.
“We hope that if victims know their pets will be well looked after while they escape, it will remove a barrier to them leaving. We will treat their pets like our own until they can be reunited with their owners in a safer place,” Chapman says.
Photography by Stephen Tilley & styling by Nicole Saunders. With thanks to Tiffany & Co., Partridge Jewellers, Dior & Stolen Girlfriends Club.