Our Story

Why Julie started Pet Refuge...

"I was the kid who was always rescuing animals.

Any animal that was ill or injured would always end up at our house. I would find birds that had fallen out of nests, bring them home, and feed them until they were strong enough to fly.

And it hasn't really stopped.

I have eight rescue cats. One is blind. One is deaf. One has a hole in his heart. I seem to be the person that adopts the cats others might not want, and that's okay with me.

So as well as helping kids in hardship through the charity I founded, KidsCanNZ, I've always wanted to do something more to help animals.

Then that "lightbulb moment" came.

An old colleague was at a Women's Refuge conference, and heard how difficult it is for some women to leave family violence because of their pets. Heartbreakingly, the family pet is not immune to abuse. They are used as pawns by controlling partners: beaten, tortured and even killed.

A survey of women whose pets were abused found 53 per cent delayed leaving the relationship out of fear for an animal's safety.

We want to change that.

We've created a safe haven for those pets - Pet Refuge - which is New Zealand's first shelter dedicated to caring for animals escaping family violence.

We partnered with the wonderful team at Women's Refuge New Zealand, and while they help women recover, we'll look after their pets. We're lucky to have the expertise of the RSPCA NSW too - in Australia they've been running a similar scheme for years.

A big part of this comes back to my parents. They were always the first to put their hands up to help anyone in need in their community. Both of them have passed away in the last five years.

Before Dad died, he asked me what I was going to do with the money that I was being left from the sale of their house. I talked to him about buying some land to be able to get this initiative off the ground, and he gave me his blessing.

It's taken four years' of work, but now we have a fully operational shelter - thanks to the Trillian Trust, the Lindsay Foundation, and our build and design partner Signature Homes.

I know some people will struggle to understand why people don't just put their own safety first, and abandon their pets.

For many people, pets are family. My pets are like my children.

For victims of family violence, it's an even deeper bond, because animals can be their only source of comfort. When you're constantly told you're worthless, when your self-esteem is at rock bottom, you cling onto your cat or dog.

I can absolutely empathise, because I had my own experience of family violence in my early 20s. It took me 14 months to get out. The verbal abuse, for me, was worse than the physical abuse, because that was the bit that really broke down my spirit.

On top of that there might be financial abuse, where victims are denied access to money, and they have often been isolated from friends and family.

All those factors - along with pets being harmed - make it very difficult for people to extricate themselves.

I think for me one of the most important things is to give women, men and children the ability to leave sooner, to try to minimise that long-term damage, particularly to children.

When I left school, I worked with a refuge for 18 months, which included looking after the creche. That was heartbreaking, because you could really see the effects of that abuse.

There was a lot of violence: acting out, hitting, swearing, mimicking what they'd heard at home - things that you wouldn't normally see in 2 and 3-year-olds.

They thought seeing people and animals in distress was normal.

But life doesn't have to be like that.

Just like Women's Refuge is there for victims, Pet Refuge is there for their pets.

We are one part of a complex issue, but it will mean one less thing to worry about when they plan how to leave.

The dream is to ensure that women, men, children and their pets are able to be free from violence and able to start new lives together. That's what success looks like."


Julie Chapman

Founder and Trustee

Pet Refuge New Zealand Charitable Trust