GARDNER – They are often the forgotten victims in many domestic abuse situations – the household pets. But a new program created by the Gardner Domestic Abuse Task Force is aimed at finding ways to rescue cats, dogs, and other animals from abusive situations.
The Purple Paws Pet Fostering Project is aimed at finding temporary foster shelters for domestic pets that are left behind when their owners are forced to leave home to escape a toxic relationship. The project, which became active last month, provides up to six months of food for the animals while they wait to be reunited with their owners.
“I had gotten several phone calls from who said victims ‘Oh no, I’m not leaving my pets behind,’” said Bernice Richard, president of Voices of Truth and coordinator of the Gardner Domestic Violence Task Force. “Pets are like children, and I thought about how many (women) were in that same situation. So I wondered how we could help the victims in this particular situation.”
Helping pets as owners escape abusive situations
Richard said she and a team of passionate animal lovers began brainstorming the problem, a process that included identifying local resources and reaching out to potential temporary foster homes in the area. As word of the program began to spread, the project received a $5,000 grant from the Gardner Yellow Birch Fund, according to Richard. In addition to grants, the program would be funded by private donations and fundraising events, she added.
“It was truly amazing how everything was pretty much falling into place,” said Richard, who added that her team decided on the tongue-twisty name, Purple Paws Pet Fostering Project, because it was a memorable phrase. “We all kind of laughed about it, like, don’t try to say this three times fast, but it’s something that kind of sticks in your mind.”
Abuse often affects pets, too
In her research, Richard discovered some heartbreaking facts: according to one study, over 70 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted the pets. In another study of families under investigation for suspected child abuse, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of families under supervision for physical abuse of their children.
“I don’t think anybody even really talks about (pet abuse), I don’t even know if anybody realizes this,” she said.
There was certainly a need in the area for a project aimed at keeping pets safe from potentially abusive domestic situations, according to Richard. She said about 50 percent of people surveyed at the recent National Night Out event in Gardner said they wanted to learn more about the Purple Paws Pet Fostering Project. She added that several people expressed interest in attending a “Paw Walk” fundraising event that is scheduled to take place at the Gardner Dog Park in April.
“It’s truly amazing as you talk to people about this subject and learn that so many of them never even gave it a second thought,” Richard said. “It’s sad that in these situations we never think about the pets. But it’s a topic we need to bring to the community’s attention.”
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First two dogs are ready to be fostered
The project had already taken in two dogs that needed to be placed in temporary shelters, according to Richard.
“That’s how fast this all happened,” she said. “And you know what? We were not even ready in our process, so we have been scrambling to get the appropriate paperwork completed, but we did already have our first interview with a foster home and we’re in the process of placing (the dogs).”
The task force is actively looking for people who are willing to provide a temporary foster shelter for domestic pets, Richard said. Volunteers will need to meet strict requirements regarding their work hours, living space, the age of their children, and – most importantly – whether they will be emotionally prepared to return the pet to its owner after a few months.
Pets will eventually return to their owners
“You have to ask yourself how giving the animal back will affect you,” Richard explained. “People get close and emotionally attached to animals after a while, but when the time comes to give the pet back, are you going to be OK with that?”
Although Richard and her team created the Purple Paws Pet Fostering Project after identifying a need for such a program in Gardner, she said she could envision that other communities could soon come up with similar programs to help animals escape from abusive domestic situations.
“I could see this growing into other towns,” she said.
How to help the Purple Paws Pet Project
To find out more about the project, visit Purple Paws Pet Project at voicesoftruthcenter.org, email GardnerDVTF@gmail.com or leave a message at 978-699-0203.
All inquiries will be kept confidential, Richard said.