WASHINGTON (WLUC) – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) announced they are reintroducing the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by violence against their pets. Multiple studies have shown that domestic abusers often seek to manipulate or intimidate their victims by threatening or harming their pets, but according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only three percent of domestic violence shelters across the country accept pets. U.S. Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are leading the reintroduction of the PAWS Act in the House.
“Abusers often exploit the emotional attachment victims have with their pets, leaving victims of domestic violence stuck choosing between their own safety or leaving a beloved pet in harm’s way,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will help empower victims to leave abusive situations, get a fresh start and keep their pets who are treasured members of their families.”
“I am committed to combating domestic violence and ensuring survivors are provided with the services they need to heal. No victim of this crime should have to choose between their safety and the safety of their pet, which is why I’m glad Nevada has facilities in both Reno and Las Vegas that serve victims of domestic violence, their children, and pets,” said Senator Dean Heller. “I am proud to introduce this critical legislation with my colleagues to ensure domestic violence survivors across the country receive the assistance they need to leave an abusive environment.”
The PAWS Act expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The bill also requires the full amount of the victim’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses to include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the victim’s pet.
The ASPCA reported that a study in Wisconsin found 68 percent of domestic violence survivors reported their abusers were also violent towards their animals. A similar study found that as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. A separate 2007 study found that as many as one-third of domestic abuse survivors reported they delayed leaving an abuser for an average of two years out of concern for the safety of their pet.
“Abusers frequently target their victims’ pets, which can cause victims to delay leaving dangerous situations, incur costly veterinary bills for their pets’ injuries and endure additional trauma from seeing their much-loved animals tortured,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “The PAWS Act will help domestic violence shelters across the country provide resources for victims fleeing abusive situations so they can find a welcome home for themselves and their pets.”
“No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation or protecting their pet,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Government Relations. “Studies demonstrate that abusers often intentionally target pets to exert control over their partners, and as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for the safety of their animal. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will provide valuable resources to give victims and their pets the security they need to escape a dangerous environment, which is why the ASPCA is grateful to Senators Peters and Heller for introducing this legislation.”
“Many states allow pets to be included in restraining orders, but what happens when a domestic violence victim must go live with family in another state where pets are not covered?” said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We must have a national policy that safeguards the pets of abuse victims, and recognizes that domestic violence impacts all members of the family—including the four-legged.”
“Too often victims of domestic violence fear leaving an abusive situation, and when violence is inflicted on their pets, victims are not only stuck in a traumatic environment, they also have to pay for veterinary bills to help their pets heal,” said David LaBahn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “The PAWS Act will provide law enforcement with the tools to ensure justice for victims of domestic violence whose pets are harmed by their abusers. I applaud Senator Peters and Senator Heller for their leadership on addressing a very important issue.”
The PAWS Act is supported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Link Coalition, the Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) Program, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, RedRover, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, YWCA USA, the American Kennel Club, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.