“He wanted to destroy everything that I loved and that included my pets,” tells domestic violence survivor Sarah*, 42, who’ll never forget cradling her dying cat in her arms after a particularly callous incident. Her then-husband –who subjected Sarah and their children to almost two decades of physical and emotional abuse – couldn’t stand how much his wife adored her little tortoiseshell cat.
“She was the most gorgeous little thing and I’m serious when I say I loved her as much as my babies. I would spoonfeed her, she’d come with me in the car wherever I went and I even taught her to play fetch. “The kids and I used to say we didn’t need a dog because we had the best cat in the world.”
But for her violent husband, who first attacked Sarah with a punch in the face as she cradled her crying newborn two years into their relationship, the cat only fuelled his rage. Along with abusing their other pets, he kicked her, threw her across the room and constantly threatened to kill her. After a failed attempt at poisoning the cat with rat bait, Sarah’s husband arranged for an associate to run her over.
“I’ll never forget it,” Sarah says, breaking down in tears. “The cat was lying in the sun on the driveway, and the person looked me in the eye and drove right over him. I was screaming and crying, and my husband just stood over me, smirking. He said, ‘It’s your f***ing fault anyway.”
Sarah, a teacher who lives in a small North Island town, is sharing her story to highlight the fact that animal abuse is a very real part of family violence. If Pet Refuge had been available to her, she’s confident it would have helped her to escape earlier.
“If I had somewhere to send my pets, knowing they were safe and looked after, it would have been the first step on the ladder towards planning how to get the hell away. It’s going to make an incredible difference to so many people.”
Her nightmare lasted almost 20 years, and Sarah says she battles overwhelming guilt and shame that she didn’t have the strength to leave.
“He was such a nasty piece of work and he belittled me for so long. He punched me, kicked me, controlled and manipulated me. He constantly told me I was worthless. So when you’re faced with that, you start to believe it and you blame yourself for the situation. There’s so much humiliation and self-loathing. He told me that if I left, he would take everything – the kids, the house, the pets. And I believed him. I felt completely powerless.”
Ashamed of what was going on behind closed doors, she never told anyone about the abuse. But the turning point came almost five years ago, when her husband stabbed her in the hand as she tried to protect her son.
“He was going after my boy with a kitchen knife and I managed to get in between them. He slashed right through nerves and ligaments. The police were called, he was taken away and that’s the last time I’ve been anywhere near him.” Now rebuilding her life, and with protection orders in place, Sarah has a message for others trapped in violent relationships.
“You don’t have to sit down and take this crap. Just try to get out. It’ll be the hardest thing you do, but the best. You’re worth more than this.”
*Name changed to protect her identity.