On March 4, Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2015 (H.R. 1258), which is a bipartisan bill aimed at helping victims of domestic violence or stalking.
Domestic violence is abhorrent, but what is even more heartbreaking is that many victims delay seeking safe refuge out of concern for what may happen to their pets. Pets are often the voiceless victims of domestic violence abuse or stalking, where abusers target a beloved pet as an attempt to control and terrorize their human victims. Sometimes the pets are brutally harmed or even die as a result of their abusers’ assaults.
Human victims often face the difficult decision of leaving the situation without their pets for their own safety or staying put to ensure that their animal companions get the veterinary care they need should they be harmed. Many survivors have reported delaying leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. Due to the fact a very small percentage of domestic violence shelters nationwide can accommodate pets, sometimes victims are forced to surrender their pets since they are unable to evacuate them, which can deepen the pain and suffering they may already be experiencing.
H.R. 1258 will expand federal law to include protections for pets of domestic violence victims and establish a federal grant program that will help ensure that victims have access to safe shelters for their pets. Specifically, the bill aims to assist both female and male victims with pets by:
- making threats to a pet a stalking-related crime;
- providing grant funding to increase the availability of housing for victims that accommodates pets;
- encouraging states to provide coverage for pets under protection orders; and
- requiring abusers who harm pets to pay veterinary and other expenses incurred as a result.
“The PAWS Act represents tremendous advancement in recognition that the abuse of animals in domestic violence threatens the safety and well-being of animals and people alike,” said Maya Carless, an executive director at the Animals and Society Institute. “I have personally worked with hundreds of victims who escaped abusive situations with little more than the clothes on their backs and their pets in their arms. Not only were they struggling to find safety for both themselves and their pets, the abusers’ control over their finances left them unable to afford necessary veterinary care for their pets who had been harmed by the abuse. While many kind-hearted veterinarians help greatly by discounting or donating their services, the PAWS Act would provide financial restitution for the costs of veterinary care in these situations, lifting the burden from the veterinary profession and greatly increasing access to essential veterinary treatment for animal victims of domestic violence.”
The AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, together with the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, recommended that the association support this legislation because it is consistent with veterinary efforts to protect the welfare of animals and promote responsible human-animal relationships, including the philosophy encompassed in the association’s Animal Welfare Principles and its resource publication that provides Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect. It is also in alignment with information regarding co-occurrence of animal abuse and domestic violence and state legislative responses in the wake of research studies.
The bill, which has been referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary and Agriculture, has 48 original co-sponsors and is supported by numerous local and national domestic violence, animal welfare and professional organizations, including the AVMA. For more information, see Rep. Clark’s press release.