Posted on May 25, 2015
New Legislation Will Protect Pets Involved in Domestic Violence
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. 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.
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
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com 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 www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.