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Pet Refuge braces for a spike in animals as lockdowns and Christmas expected to have big impact on family violence

There’s concern coming into the Christmas period for victims of family violence and their pet animals, after a tougher than usual year for many New Zealanders.  

Police are expecting a steep increase in family violence as Christmas pressures combined with the stresses of Covid-19 hit home. Last year calls for help jumped almost 8% over the festive season, with police responding to 16,833 incidences nationwide in December and 16,905 in January – up from an average of 14,079 calls a month through the rest of the year. On average, Police attend one episode of family violence every four minutes.  

The Police Harm Reduction team say they are pleased Pet Refuge is available over the Christmas period for the first time in New Zealand, after the shelter opened in August this year.  

“Sadly, we regularly see a steep increase in family harm calls over this period. Recent months under the Covid alert levels have been incredibly hard, which could put extra pressure on whānau this year,” Police National Prevention Manager Harm Reduction, Inspector Natasha Allan says. “This discreet service will help victims of family harm make decisions about their wellbeing and safety, reassuring them that their pets will be safe. It’s a vital support to those who may need to find safety for themselves and their whānau this Christmas.”  

Pet Refuge is the first shelter dedicated to pets affected by family violence in New Zealand, and cares for animals while their owners escape abuse. Animals provide solace for people living in abusive relationships but are also often a barrier to leaving because victims can’t take pets to refuges. Pet Refuge was set up to remove that barrier. Animals come from all over the country to the shelter, which is in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Auckland.

Family violence support workers are also bracing for a rise in violence coming into summer.  

Crisis Social Worker Larah Bottomley says without Pet Refuge some women would never escape their dangerous environments. She recently had Pet Refuge help a client relocate her two beloved horses. “Without Pet Refuge’s support, my client would never have been able to leave Auckland for her safety because she certainly wouldn’t have left without her horses,” Larah says. “Pet Refuge means that the women I work with are able to feel a lot more comfortable with leaving violent situations, knowing that their beloved furry family members are going to be just as protected and kept safe as she will be. It can very often be the difference between a woman staying in a violent situation, or her leaving.”

Pet Refuge is today launching its Christmas appeal aiming to raise $200,000. The refuge relies on donations to continue running. The money helps buy blankets, toys and exercise equipment, medication, transport, and pays for vets, expert animal carers, case workers and support staff.

There are 32 animals currently being cared for at the shelter. Since the refuge was set up, 54 animals have been helped – 28 dogs, 26 cats, 1 rabbit and 1 horse. 22 have been reunited with their owners. The shelter has provided over 2,217 safe bed nights.

“Pet Refuge has helped many victims escape abuse since it opened its doors,” founder Julie Chapman says. “There are so many barriers to victims escaping dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations and it is great to be able to take one of those barriers away in New Zealand. We are now bracing for a busier period than usual over our first Christmas.”

To donate visit or call 09 975 0850.

To get help:  

0800 PET REFUGE or 0800 738 733 843 or

Women’s Refuge: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843

Men who feel they’re going to harm a loved one: 0800 HEY BRO or 0800 439 276

Police are urging the public to contact them if they think someone is at risk


Pet Refuge is the brainchild of Julie Chapman, Founder and CEO of children’s charity KidsCan. Modelled on the RSPCA New South Wales’ successful domestic violence programme. Pet Refuge transports small animals from around New Zealand to the shelter and has a national network of safe farms to care for larger farm animals. Shelter staff are qualified and trained to ensure the best care of animals, including expert measures to minimise stress.  

Due to practicalities, women escaping family violence are usually unable to take their pets with them to safe houses. Pet Refuge has partnered with Women’s Refuge, Shine, and Shakti to assist pets via referrals.

Research shows women delay leaving violent relationships because of their pets. A 2018 Women’s Refuge survey of women whose partners had abused or threatened their pets found:  

  • 73% of respondents said their partner had kicked a pet or farm animal 
  • 49% said they had hit them with an object 
  • 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  
  • 53% delayed leaving an abusive relationship out of fear for their pet or farm animals’ safety 
  • 73% would have found it easier to leave an abusive relationship if there was a shelter offering temporary accommodation for their animals.  
  • 22% returned to a relationship because their partner threatened the safety of their pets or farm animals.

*Please note that not every survey participant answered every question. The percentages listed are of the total who responded to the individual question.