Any member of a household, including companion animals, can become victims of domestic violence. In fact, fear of what might happen to a pet keeps some human victims from leaving their abusive situation, according to AVMA.com. This is the impetus behind bipartisan, federal legislation H.R. 1258, referred to as The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS Act)1. This pending legislation has 57 co-sponsors in Congress and the endorsement of many domestic violence and welfare organizations, says the American Veterinary Medical Association, which has just announced its support for the PAWS Act.
The PAWS Act
The PAWS Act would assist both male and female victims of domestic violence and their pets in the following ways1:
- Threatening a pet would be considered a stalking-related crime.
- Grant funding would increase the availability of alternative housing for pets of domestic violence victims.
- States would provide protections against violent or threatening acts toward the pets belonging to the person named in a domestic violence protection order.
- Abusers who harm pets would be required to pay for veterinary expenses to treat the animal.
Domestic abuse victims and their pets
AVMA.com goes on to say that Maryland Democratic Representative, Katherine Clark, introduced the PAWS Act on March 4, along with Florida Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ms. Clark has stated, “No one should have to make the choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety.” Advocates for this legislation report that approximately 33 percent of domestic violence victims postpone leaving an abusive relationship because of concern for their pet's well being. Additionally, up to 25 percent of victims return to an abusive partner because they fear for their pets.
Abusers are often aware of the emotional bond between the victims and their pets. They may exploit that bond in order to frighten, manipulate and control the target of their abuse. Some grim statistics bear this out2:
- As many as 48 percent of battered women reported that they delayed leaving a dangerous situation because of concern for their pet’s safety.
- Between 49 and 86 percent of victims reported that their pets had been threatened, harmed or killed by their abusers.
- 85 percent of domestic violence shelters indicated that women coming into their facilities spoke of incidents of pet abuse.
- When leaving an abuse situation requires relinquishment of a pet, victims of abuse report losing an important source of support as they adjust to this separation and recover from the violence.
Some victims who have escaped their abuse struggle to afford necessary veterinary care for their pets, harmed by abuse. While many sympathetic veterinarians discount or donate their services, the PAWS Act would enforce provision of veterinary care costs in these situations.
What you can do
The PAWS Act was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations on 3/31/15. How can you help this bill come to fruition? I encourage you to write to your US representatives, asking them to cosponsor the PAWS Act (H.R. 1258). Just imagine how this legislation will provide benefit to victims of abuse by giving them the ability to protect a beloved pet.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
- "H.R.5267 - Pet and Women Safety Act of 2014113th Congress (2013-2014)." CONGRESS.GOV. Library of Congress, Web. 13 May 2015.
- "Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act." Animal Welfare Institute, Web. 13 May 2015.