In 2014, the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was introduced, with the aim of protecting “victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by acts of violence or threats of violence against their pets.” The PAWS Act was signed into law as part of the Farm Bill on Thursday.
The PAWS Act will expand existing federal protections for domestic violence victims to include their pets, and will establish a federal grant program to assist victims in finding safe shelter for their animals. The act will also create an amendment to the definition of stalking to include “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”
Often, an abuser uses their victim’s pet as another outlet for their violence, or a way to manipulate their victim into staying with them. Only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters currently allow pets, and one-third of victims reported that they delayed leaving an abusive situation because they weren’t able to find a safe place for their pets.
The act will also require the coverage of veterinary costs in restitution for domestic violence cases involving abuse against pets. Congresswoman Katherine Clark and congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who were instrumental in getting the act passed as part of the Farm Bill, called the PAWS Act an important and empowering step in helping victims of domestic violence.
“No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet,” said Clark. “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.”
The PAWS Act was supported by domestic violence and animal welfare advocates across the country. Organizations like the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Humane Society all endorsed the act.
“The inclusion of the PAWS Act in the Farm Bill will help victims of domestic violence and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the shelter and safety they need,” said Richard Patch, vice president of federal affairs for the ASPCA. “We are grateful to Representative Clark for her steadfast leadership on this issue and we applaud Congress for including this groundbreaking provision in the Farm Bill.”