While Selena was having the time of her life filming Princess Protection Program
with Demi in Puerto Rico last year, she couldn't help but notice all the stray dogs scampering along the local beaches. "It broke my heart, going to work every day and not being able to do anything," she recalls.
Her chance to chip in came this past winter when she returned to Puerto Rico to film the Wizards of Waverly Place
movie. "My mom and I researched organizations that could help us do something about all the animals," says Selena, who discovered Island Dog (www.islanddog.org), an organization that rescues adoptable stray dogs in Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. The non-profit also feeds, medicates and cares for the animals it can't afford to keep in shelters. Moved by their mission, Selena hosted a volunteer event on March 7 near San Juan that helped raise $17,000. "We were vaccinating the dogs and rubbing oil on their backs so they don't get fleas," says Selena, who also filmed an educational video to shed light on the situation. "We got to feed them and play with them. It was sweet and heartbreaking at the same time."
Naturally, since Selena has a soft spot for furry friends (her family already has five rescue dogs under their roof), she fell in love with one of the lonely pups. The lucky dog who captured her heart? A mutt named Chazz—and "he's adorable!" she says. "He got hit by a car and had a broken leg. We kept him in our hotel room and gave him a bath and fed him, and ended up flying him to our house!" And though Selena couldn't do the same for all the strays, "you feel good about the little things you do, like feeding or bathing a dog," she says. "It's empowering."
"I WAS BULLIED!"
ONCE THE TARGET OF MIDDLE-SCHOOL MEAN GIRLS, DEMI HELPS TEENS TAKE A STAND AGAINST BULLYING
As a former victim of bullying by some seventh grade classmates, Demi has taken a personal interest in combating the problem in schools. She recently aligned with the organization Love Our Children USA (www.loveourchildren.org) to film a public service announcement about the serious repercussions of being bullied.
"It's not just getting beat up in school, but verbal harassment," says Demi, who started getting picked on just as her career started taking off. "They say sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never hurt you, and that's totally not true. Words can hurt. There were things that were said to me that I've never forgotten."
Here, Demi opens up about her own experience of being bullied and how she fought back.
HER MIDDLE SCHOOL NIGHTMARE
"There was a petition, 'We hate Demi.' They would text me and say, 'We just want to ruin your life.' Even some teachers who were friends with the parents of the students who hated me would accuse me of things. But nobody could ever give me a specific reason why they hated me. My mom kept saying, 'Turn the other cheek' and 'Kill them with kindness,' and I was like, 'Mom, why? It's not going away.' The worst part was, the school couldn't do anything about it because none of it was physical."
THE BREAKING POINT
"I went to gym one day, and one of the girls couldn't find her shirt and told everyone I stole it—which wasn't true. They all decided to gang up on me. I started running away because some of the girls were threatening to beat me up. They chased me upstairs. I hid in a bathroom. The lights were turned off and I called my mom. That was the breaking point. I was crying. I finally told my mom, 'I hate my life here. You need to take me out of school.' So she picked me up. And I've been home-schooled ever since."
THE EMOTIONAL EFFECTS
"I remember asking them, 'What did I do?' No one could answer. Everyone was saying it's jealousy, and blah, blah. The worst part is, I didn't believe it because I didn't think I was worthy of someone being jealous of me. Looking back, that must have been it. But I always pinned it on myself and said there must have been something I did wrong."
"One time Selena and I ran into some of the girls. Selena walked up to them and heard them talking bad about me—'There's Demi; she's so stupid and blah, blah'—and Selena was like, 'Don't talk about my best friend.' She gave them attitude and then walked away. She does not put up with anything. If anyone were to say anything about Selena, I would do the same thing."
WHAT SHE LEARNED FROM HER ORDEAL
"I started using the bullying as motivation to succeed," says Demi. "I knew who I was and I knew what I wanted to do. You can't focus on those people or you won't get anywhere. And now that I've overcome all of that it's made me a stronger person."