Lucy Hale Wants to 'Shine a Light' on the 'Silent Issue' of How Domestic Violence Affects Pets

Lucy Hale is giving a voice to the voiceless in need of help.

The actress, 31, and her beloved dog Elvis have partnered with Red Rover and Purina's Purple Leash Project, an initiative that envisions and works to create a world where no person or pet is trapped in a domestic violence situation. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a fitting time for Purple Leash Project and Hale to educate animal lovers on how domestic violence affects pets and their owners, a message Hale is eager to share.

"As a huge pet lover and advocate against domestic violence, I was honored when Purina asked me to help bring awareness to the Purple Leash Project. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and it is so important to shine a light on an ongoing and often silent issue that affects domestic abuse victims and their pets," Pretty Little Liars alum told PEOPLE.

According to Hale and Purple Leash Project, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, a number that unfortunately appears to have increased during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But while domestic violence affects so many, only 10% of domestic violence shelters are open to pets, a reality that leaves many pet owners with the hard choice.

"I couldn’t believe when Purina shared with me that only 10% of domestic violence shelters in the US allow pets," Hale shared. "This lack of pet-friendly shelters often leaves victims with a heartbreaking decision of enduring abuse in order to stay with their pet or leave their pet behind. I immediately had passion for this cause because I can’t imagine having to make that choice. No one should have to."

This dedication to ending this issue is what led Hale to work with the Purple Leash Project on their mission to make more domestic abuse shelters pet-friendly.

"Purina has committed over $950,000 in grants to help fund key renovations such as pet supplies, vet assistance, outdoor play areas, indoor/outdoor kennels and more," Hale added about what the project has done so far. "The Purple Leash Project is working to ensure that there is at least one pet-friendly shelter in every state, but by 2025 their goal is for 25% of U.S. domestic violence shelters to become pet-friendly."

This work, said Hale, will help protect countless people and pets, like the 70% of women in domestic violence shelters that have reported that their abusers threatened, injured, or killed a pet as a means of control.

"There is definitely a link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. Pets are often a loving source of emotional support for victims of abuse and they often become a target for abusers. Allowing a victim and his/her pet to leave together is critical to protecting them both," Hale said.

This fight for a safe space for human and animal survivors of domestic violence is also important to Hale as a dog mom, who calls he 4-year-old maltipoo Elvis the light of her life and "best friend." Though Hale felt an instant connection to Elvis, when she first met the pooch, she said her bond with her pet is stronger than ever due to the pandemic.

"I did all of quarantine alone, so I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without Elvis. He kept me company and kept me sane. We were already super close, but I feel we bonded even more during that time," she said of spending quarantine with sweet, gentle lap dog.

Hale is calling on other animal lovers to help her spread the word about Purple Leash Project and the work being done to help people and pets trapped in abusive situations.

"On Purple Thursday, October 22nd, we are asking everyone to take the lead in raising awareness about this cause. You can take a cute picture while walking your pet & wearing something purple," the Katy Keene star said on how anyone can help. "Share it on Facebook or Instagram tagging @purina and @redroverorg using the hashtag #purpleleashproject. Tell everyone why you support this cause! You can also encourage others to check out www.purpleleashproject.com to learn more and donate."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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