Kiwis love their pets. New Zealand has the second highest pet ownership in the world. But when it comes to family violence in Aotearoa, beloved pets are often the silent victims.
“We don’t put much importance on the safety of animals,” says Jasmine Gillespie-Gray.
This year, she completed her Masters in Psychology, focusing on extreme violence in the home and the damaging effects it has on women, their children and their pets.
“Seventy-five percent of women who are experiencing domestic violence and who have animals will experience threats against their animals and over a third of them will have actual violence taken against the animals. I think it’s something that we’re not aware of.
Jasmine’s research and similar studies overseas showed it was common for women to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets.
Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge New Zeeland, Ang Jury, says threats against animals from an abuser is a powerful tool to control their victims.
She says that out of the 40 women refuges across Aotearoa, only two are equipped to take in pets, one in Porirua and the other in Auckland.
“We are quite constrained in some aspects because we can’t have large dogs or that kind of thing in our safe houses. What we do in those instances will contact our local SPCA and try and house the pets,” she says.
The New Zealand Government is considering changes to the Domestic Violence Act that will include household pets and other animals when defining family violence. Jury says that this is a positive move.
“While it doesn’t change what actually happens, it actually signals that people have to pay attention to,” she says.
Since completing her Masters, Gillespie-Gray has become a staunch advocate for the rights of pets.
“The women spoke to me because they wanted other women to not have to make a choice between their animals and their own safety. Their stories will go a long way to helping animals, woman and children,” she says.