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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    New London-based group helps granddaughter of Lucille Ball care for pets of domestic abuse victims

    MILFORD — The granddaughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr. is putting her celebrity behind what she says is her next good cause: providing housing and care for the pets of domestic violence victims while the victims recover.

    Julia Arnaz, the 53-year-old daughter of Desi Arnaz Jr. and a 17-year Milford resident, said that pets are often manipulated by spousal abusers to keep their victims under control. Many victims need assurances that their pets will be safe before they get help, she said.

    Arnaz and the nonprofit New London-based domestic violence organization Safe Futures are developing a partnership that they hope will lead to a statewide or national campaign to bolster pet rescues as part of treating victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking, sexual assault and stalking at Safe Futures or other agencies, said Arnaz and Katherine Verano, the organization's CEO.

    "These women stay in these abusive relationships because they don't want to leave their pets. And I want to be (the pets') voice," said Arnaz, who said she survived a physically abusive six-year relationship with a live-in boyfriend in the early 2000s. "Those pets were (the victims') therapy dogs. They were the only unconditional love that the women or men had during the relationship. So often, that's all they have, and they stay by their owners' side through everything."

    Serving 21 municipalities and about 10,000 victims annually in southeastern Connecticut, Safe Futures is one of the few agencies that makes pet care a part of shelter and transitional-housing efforts for victims. Most agencies don't, said Verano, who began discussing the fledgling partnership with Arnaz only recently.

    "We're very excited to have someone so interested in this much-needed program. We are honored that she is interested in it and we want to talk further to her to have someone of her celebrity to help raise awareness," Verano said. "It seems that she has the commitment and passion for it."

    Many times the abuser in a relationship will kill or threaten to kill a beloved pet when a victim seeks shelter, she said. Often abused spouses will avoid seeking help because of that threat or because their children won't leave their pets behind, Verano said.

    "If they did leave, the abuser would kill the dog or say that the dog ran away," Verano said. "These are very real things that would happen."

    There are an average 14 homicides annually in Connecticut due to domestic violence, and 87 percent of the victims are women. Nationally, 23 percent of all women and 14 percent of all men are victims of domestic violence inflicted upon them by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, according to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. More than 50 percent of those women lose their jobs as a result of partner interference.

    Arnaz reached out to Safe Futures when she heard of its support of pets. Arnaz serves as a national spokesperson for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, partly to honor her daughter, Desiree Anzalone, 31, of Stratford, who died on Sept. 27, 2020, of breast cancer. Arnaz also owns Julie's Paws of Love, a pet day care, in the Milford home that she shares with her husband of 11 years, Albert Massey.

    "Women can escape with their pets. I want to bring this to the forefront, especially as more places like this open," Arnaz said of Safe Futures. "People don't talk about this a lot. The pets get lost in the shuffle."

    Putting her famous name and lineage to good use is one of the few upsides to her celebrity, Arnaz said, which includes a recent article in People magazine. Arnaz never met her famous grandparents, who starred in the iconic sitcom "I Love Lucy," which ran from 1951 to 1957, and has remained a cultural touchstone for decades. Arnaz died in 1986; Ball died in 1989.

    Arnaz's mother was model Susan Callahan-Howe, but Arnaz didn't have a relationship with her father, Desi Jr., until the early '90s, after a test proved his paternity. Arnaz lived in California until moving to Stamford at age 8. She said the DNA test results began a great relationship with her father, whom she said she speaks with monthly. Desi Arnaz Jr. stepped up as a grandfather, too, paying for Desiree Anzalone's college education, Arnaz said.

    "He lives a quiet life out West," she said. "He's just lost his wife five years ago. He is still mourning her. It's really sad."

    Arnaz is friendly with her aunt, actress Lucie Désirée Arnaz, and is good friends with one of her grandmother's best later-in-life friends, the actress Paula Stewart.

    "I talk to her twice a month. She's in her 90s and she lives in Los Angeles," Arnaz said. "She's a spunky gal."

    Arnaz is up on her grandparents' history, too. She recognizes that besides his singing and bongo-playing — and extraordinary work as a straight man to his wife — Desi Arnaz Sr. was a shrewd businessman who ran his own film and TV studio, Desilu Productions, and pioneered repeat television shows and syndication.

    And beyond "I Love Lucy," Lucille Ball made her mark in Hollywood as the successor to her ex-husband at Desilu. As one of the first female studio owners, Ball most famously greenlit the original "Star Trek" TV series.

    Julia Arnaz said she doesn't doubt that her grandparents would support her work for pets.

    "They were very much animal lovers, so it seems fitting. They even had a cow for a pet that used to go in the house," she said with a laugh.

    To donate goods or funds to Safe Futures, visit safefuturesct.org/item-donations or call 860-447-0366.

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