New Legislation Will Protect Pets Involved in Domestic Violence

“Lovely White Haired Lady” by Racchio on FlickerAny 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. This is the impetus behind bipartisan federal legislation H.R. 1258, referred to as The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS Act). This pending legislation has 57 co-sponsors in Congress and the endorsement of many domestic violence and welfare organizations. The American Veterinary Medical Association 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 through the following measures:

  • 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 towards 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

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 pets 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 out:

  • 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 who have been 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.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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6 Comments on “New Legislation Will Protect Pets Involved in Domestic Violence

  1. This is great! Legal tools to offer an escape to those in danger!

  2. Many years ago this subject surfaced but no one paid attention to it in my area. Whenever I came across an animal abuse case which invariably developed into wife- and/or child abuse, I felt helpless. There was not even an agency you could turn to. Thus, I developed my own method of dealing with this: with the agreement of the wife, I “confiscated” the animal until such time that she left the abuser and had her own place away from him. This was something she wanted to do anyway but could not bring herself to leave her companion behind.
    Once she gave me the pet she was able and did find living place in a safe area and once I checked it out, she got her companion back.
    Legal? Most likely not. Protected by any laws for “petnapping”? Not once necessary! Grateful and relieved women owners and children? Without exception.
    Companion stolen back by the abuser? Never once because we made sure that the location was kept secret.
    Result: a large number of grateful owners, and equally, extremely grateful companion animals.
    Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! Worried about the law? No, because if that’s what it takes to draw attention to such and similar problems, so be it.
    For many years I had greeting cards and notes at holiday times from my sweet rescuees who lived long and happy lives with their owners who learned from the first incidence that if anyone is unkind to their pet, he is not to form a liaison with – it is indeed a red flag.

  3. I’m glad that at the very least we’re making this issue more and more apparent – animals are often the first to become victims by domestic abusers, so it’s important to pay attention to how people treat their animals. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. I clicked on the US Representatives hyperlink, above, which linked to “Compassion Index” and “Stop Animal Abuse” letters to US reps & international reps.

    Thank you, Dr. Nancy for providing us with a way to help suffering animals.

    Dr. Kay, no wonder the animals love you!

  5. This is a step in the right direction! Animals feel pain, fear and sorrow just like anyone else, and treating them with the respect that they deserve is long overdue. I have just written to my state representative and forwarded the info to everyone I know.

    Please send your thoughts to your own state reps, and request that they support this, so that we can all be a collective voice for the innocent animals.

  6. This sounds like a wonderful idea, but if we can’t get these abusive monsters to pay for their partners medical expenses, how can we expect them to pay for dogs and cats? I love the motivation behind this, but fear it’s just another well-meaning administrative, paper- pushing government intervention/complication that won’t work.