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Paula Abdul speaks out for the pets of domestic violence victims

December 19, 2008 |  1:20 pm

Paula Abdul Former pop queen and current "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul has never been among the first celebrities to spring to our minds when we think of animal activism.  (She's no Emmylou Harris, is all we're saying.)

Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned that Abdul has signed on as spokesperson for the American Humane Association's Pet's and Women's Shelters (PAWS) program. 

PAWS, created by American Humane Association director of public policy Allie Phillips, promotes on-site housing of pets at women's shelters.  Phillips found that many women are reluctant to leave abusive relationships at least in part because they fear for their pets' safety if left behind, since most women's shelters don't permit pets. 

Studies show that domestic violence victims' fears about their pets are not unwarranted.  An O Magazine article referenced a 1998 study:

Frank Ascione, PhD, a psychologist at Utah State University, surveyed 38 women at a domestic violence shelter. Of those who reported having owned pets, 71 percent said that their partners had threatened, tortured—even killed—one or more of their animals during the relationship. Abusers had shot dogs, drowned a cat, and set a kitten on fire. "Many of the descriptions sounded like calculated behavior to terrorize the woman in her home," Ascione says.

Since then, a decade's worth of studies have confirmed, and expanded on, Ascione's initial findings. In Atlanta, for example, researchers surveyed 107 battered women who sought help at a family violence center after being indicted for various crimes. Of those who reported pet abuse, 44 percent said that their partners told them they would hurt the animals unless the women joined in the illegal acts. One 33-year-old said her husband punched and choked her during their five-year marriage and forbade her to see her family without him. Two weeks after he lost his job, he robbed a bank and swore he'd kick her dog to death unless she drove the getaway car. "I was sure he would kill my little Terry Terrier if I didn't do what he said," she explained. "I felt trapped."

Not only are victims more likely to leave abusive situations if they feel confident their pets will be safe, PAWS argues, but they also benefit emotionally from having animal companionship during a difficult time in their lives. 

American Humane quotes Abdul, "The relationship I have with my dogs is not only very special to me, but also a great source of comfort and peace of mind...The PAWS Program is a critical way of providing a transition for abused women and children into a safer and better life. I feel privileged to be involved with this extremely important and necessary program."

To learn how you can help domestic violence victims and their pets, visit American Humane's Newsroom.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

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