Up to one-third of domestic violence victims in one study said they delayed the decision to enter a shelter out of concern for their pets’ welfare. But, according to some estimates, only about 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide can accommodate pets.
A new bill signed into law by President Trump on Thursday aims to change that.
The Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was passed with bipartisan support as part of the farm bill — legislation that addresses a wide range of areas, including farming, nutrition, conservation, trade, energy and forestry.
Lawmakers and advocates say PAWS aims to protect victims of partner violence. Research shows that abusers inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or exert control over their partners.
“No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet,” said Democratic Caucus vice chair and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who co-sponsored the bill.
“This law empowers survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet. I’m grateful for the partnerships we’ve formed between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we will help save lives.”
PAWS mimics legislation in 33 states, plus the nation’s capital and Puerto Rico, that include various protections for pets in domestic violence orders and funding for sheltering.
The act expands federal domestic violence protections to include protections for the pets of domestic violence victims. It creates a federal grant program to help domestic violence programs assist clients in finding shelter for their pets when they leave their abusers.
Some shelters provide onsite housing for animals, such as separate kennels or facilities where clients can stay with pets; or, they help clients find foster homes or safe havens during their stay, said Nancy Blaney, director of government affairs for the Animal Welfare Institute, which supported the legislation.
But need for pet sheltering options exceeds demand, she said. Often, victims will stay with an abusive partner to avoid being separated from their pets when sheltering options are not available.
“They will do anything to protect their animals because often that pet is often the only positive thing in their lives,” she said.
Through its grant program, PAWS aims to support the construction and operating expenses of new or existing pet shelter and housing. It also supports short-term shelter and housing assistance, such as expenses incurred for the temporary shelter, housing, boarding or fostering of the pets of domestic violence victims.
The measure also calls for amending the definition of stalking in federal criminal code to include “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”
The act creates a criminal penalty for those who travel across state lines with the intent of violating a protection order against a pet.
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Ahimsa House — pronounced “uh-HIM-sah” and means “nonviolence” in Sanskrit — was founded in 2004 by Emily Christie after she lost a pet to domestic violence. Ahimsa House became Georgia’s first and only organization dedicated to helping the human and animal victims of domestic violence reach safety together.