U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today introduced the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by acts or threats of 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.
“Pets are treasured members of our families, and victims of domestic violence can often get caught in a cycle of abuse because they cannot take their pets with them when they try to leave their abusers,” said Senator Peters. “This legislation provides important support to better empower victims of domestic violence to leave abusive situations, recover the cost of veterinary bills if an abuser harms their pet, and find shelter and housing that allows them to keep their pets as companions.”
“Domestic violence victims should not have to choose between their own personal safety and that of their pet,” said Senator Ayotte. “Domestic violence is about power and control, and all too often we see abusers harming or threatening to harm pets in an attempt to exercise control over their victims. The PAWS Act provides important authorities and resources to help empower victims of domestic and sexual violence and stalking to leave abusive situations and seek help.”
The PAWS Act would amend the federal criminal code to prohibit threats or acts of violence against a person’s pet under the offenses of stalking and interstate violation of a protection order. 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 legislation further directs the Department of Agriculture to award grants to eligible entities to carry out programs to provide specified housing assistance, support services, and training of relevant stakeholders to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking 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 Ayotte and Peters 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, chief program and policy officer for The Humane Society of the United States. “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. We are grateful to Senator Peters for working to provide victims and their families with the help they need.”
The ASPCA reported that a study in Wisconsin found that “68% of battered women revealed that abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock; more than three-quarters of these cases occurred in the presence of women and/or children to intimidate or control them.” Moreover, a 2014 New York Police Department study found that 71 percent of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their abusers threatened, harmed or killed family pets. Yet, only a small number of domestic violence shelters permit pets.
The PAWS Act has been endorsed by the Humane Society, National Sheriff’s Association, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.