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Peters Visits YWCA in Kalamazoo, Highlights Legislation to Protect Domestic Violence Victims and Pets

KALAMAZOO, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters today toured the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Kalamazoo to learn more about their programs to assist domestic and sexual assault victims. While there, he discussed the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, bipartisan legislation Peters introduced to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from 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. April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.

“The unique partnership of Kalamazoo’s YWCA and SPCA of Southwest Michigan helps ensure victims of domestic violence don’t have to choose between their personal safety and that of their beloved pet,” said Senator Peters. “My bipartisan PAWS Act will give more shelters the ability to provide a safe haven for domestic violence victims, their children and their pets, empowering more victims to leave abusive situations with the comfort of knowing that their pets will be safe.”

“Sadly, abusers can also target their victims’ pets, causing the victims to stay in dangerous situations for far too long,” said Grace Lubwama, CEO of the Kalamazoo YWCA. “By working with the SPCA of Southwest Michigan through the My Sister’s House program, the YWCA is able to help fight abuse and save lives by ensuring that victims and their pets have a safe place to turn for help. We thank Senator Peters for his leadership on this important issue and for working to help shelters across the country launch similar programs that will allow victims and their pets to escape violence.”

“The emotional bond formed between pets and their owners puts victims of domestic violence in the position of having to make an impossible choice between saving their own life or their pet’s,” said Katie Timber, Executive Director of the SPCA of Southwest Michigan. “The SPCA works to find safe and loving foster homes for these pets so that victims are able to leave abusive situations. We applaud Senator Peters for his efforts to support programs like My Sister’s House that help protect both the victims and their four-legged family members who are suffering from domestic violence.”

“Victims of domestic violence suffer enough, they shouldn’t have to see their pets suffer threats or acts of violence as well,” said Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller. “By expanding federal domestic violence protections to include pets and by requiring restitution for veterinary costs incurred by violence against pets, Senator Peters’ legislation gives law enforcement more tools to combat and prosecute abuse. I appreciate his leadership on this critical issue, and thank him for introducing this legislation that will help law enforcement find justice for domestic violence victims and their pets.”

The Pets and Woman Safety (PAWS) Act would provide grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims and their pets. The bill would also expand existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet and require 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 YWCA in Kalamazoo offers support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through their Domestic Assault Program, Sexual Assault Program and the Transitional/Permanent Housing Program. These programs offer confidential, non-judgmental crisis intervention, counseling, advocacy, and safe shelter for up to five weeks for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Programs provided by the YWCA in Kalamazoo are free to the community and available to anyone who seeks their assistance.

The My Sister’s House program is a joint program of YWCA in Kalamazoo and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Southwest Michigan, which shelters pets of victims of domestic abuse while they go through the programs offered at the YWCA. The animals are returned into their care contingent upon the completion of the YWCA program.

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.