Pet Refuge preparing for busy Christmas with family violence expected to spike

An Auckland shelter that takes in the pets of family violence survivors is preparing for a busy Christmas period.

Pet Refuge looks after animals so people can leave abusive situations, which are expected to increase over the holidays.

"We'll keep their pets safe over the Christmas period, while they find new places to live," says Pet Refuge founder Julie Chapman.

Pet Refuge is the country's first shelter dedicated to housing pets affected by family violence.

"It just gives people that real peace of mind knowing that when they want to leave violence they can do so knowing that their pets are gonna be safe and not injured or even in some cases killed," says Chapman.

Because of that, we can't tell you where the shelter is, or even details of the pets onsite.

"We want to make sure the victims are not being judged, and that they feel safe, that they can find safety and their pets are safe and no one's going to find them," says Louise Morley, the shelter's manager.

The centre's helped 54 animals since opening in August, including dogs, cats, a rabbit, and a horse. Twenty-two animals have been reunited with their owners.

"We become very close with the pets, especially the ones that have been here longer. We treat them like they're our own pets. So it is sad to see them go home, but also very rewarding," says Morley.

And it could get even busier over the holidays. Last year police reported an 8 percent increase in family violence over the festive season.

"It can be a stressful time, which can lead to tensions between family members, which then potentially causes an increase in family harm callouts," says Police family harm manager Seema Kotecha.

"My sense is that this year we're going to see that again, or even more, particularly off the back of the lockdowns we've had," says Chapman.

People are often reluctant to leave an abusive situation because they don't want to leave their pet behind.

"They may be used as tools to prevent people from leaving, because they don't want to leave their pet at home without a source of protection," explains Kotecha.

Anticipating the surge, Pet Refuge has launched a Christmas appeal. It aims to raise $200,000 for things like blankets, toys, exercise equipment, medication, and transport, as well as paying for vets, animal carers, caseworkers, and support staff for its first Christmas in operation. 

"We are making sure that we have the space, the people, and obviously a bit of festivity as well, to make Christmas the best it can be for the pets that are in our care," says Chapman.

Hoping to bring some Christmas cheer to people - and pets - who'll be needing it most.

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