WASHINGTON — 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 3 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.”
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.”