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‘Bark in the Park’ raises abuse awareness

Domestic violence is not limited to the abuse of spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends. Very often, pets are the first victims of domestic abuse, usually followed by the abuse of a spouse or domestic partner.
According to a study conducted by Ascione, Weber and Wood in 1997, more than 71 percent of battered women reported that their batterers had harmed, killed or threatened animals. Of those incidents against animals, more than 75 percent took place in the presence of the women or children to coerce, control and humiliate them.
Another study done in 2002 by McIntosh found that 25 to 40 percent of battered women said that they delayed their decision to seek safety out of fear for their animals’ welfare.
The American Humane Association is working to keep abused women and their pets safe, launching a program in 2008 called PAWS — Pets And Women’s Shelters — to keep domestic violence victims and their pets together.
“Of the 18 shelters in Alabama, Harriet’s House is the only one that allows victims to bring their family pets to the shelter with them,” said Harriet’s House director Susanna Smith-Nesbitt. “All of the other shelters will make arrangements for family pets, but they can’t stay on-site. They will board them at vet clinics or they have agreements with the Humane Society.
“I can’t tell you how many times before we started this (the PAWS program) that there have been women with pets who would not come to the shelter because they could not bring their pets, which leaves everybody in a dangerous environment.”
To help promote awareness of domestic violence and animal abuse, Harriet’s House and the Bigbee Humane Society will present National PAWS Day’s “Bark in the Park” on Saturday, Oct. 2.
On Oct. 2, beginning at 8 a.m. at the city park, people are invited to bring their pets for a walk to the city landing and back again. A $20 registration donation is requested, and those registering to take part in the walk will get a “goody bag” that contains leashes, pet treats and other items. All proceeds will be split between Harriet’s House and the Bigbee Humane Society.
Registration will last from 8 to 8:30 a.m., and the walk will begin at 8:30. All animals must be on a leash with a collar or in a carrier. People 18 and under taking part in the walk must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Pets can be blessed by the Rev. Richard Losch of Livingston, a retired Episcopalian priest and rector emeritus of Saint James Church of Livingston.
Organizers are planning a dog costume contest, and suggest that people dress in support of their favorite sports team. There will be a “Tip Table” with certified obedience instructor Rosemary Shows providing training tips, and a pet groomer will also be at the event. Photos will also be taken at the city park of people and their pets.
Both organizations are 501(c)3 entities, so donations are tax-deductible. Donations to Harriet’s House can be mailed to P.O. Box 569, Demopolis, AL 36732. Donations to Bigbee Humane Society can be mailed to P.O. Box 474, Demopolis, AL 36732.
Purple ribbons around town will commemorate October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. October is also Adopt a Pet Month.