Proposed PAWS Act Would Protect Pets of Domestic Violence Victims

boxer dog hugging woman

About half of all women living with abusive partners choose to stay in the relationship because they are afraid to leave their pets behind, according to the ASPCA. Only 3 percent of U.S. shelters for victims of domestic violence currently allow pets.

Most of the women who do go to shelters said their abusive partner also threatened, harmed or killed a family pet. And 25 percent of those women return to the abuser because they fear for their pets’ lives.

To change these sad statistics, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2015 (H.R. 1258) was reintroduced in Congress on March 5 by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). It is intended to “protect the pets of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence,” according to the bill text.

The PAWS Act was initially introduced last year, but failed to pass.

“Sadly, domestic violence is something one in every four women will experience at some point in their lives,” said Clark in a press release. “This isolating experience is made even worse for those who fear for the safety of their pet. Most pet lovers, including me, consider their beloved dog or cat a part of their family. No one should have to make the choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety.”

Specifically, the PAWS Act would:

  • “Prohibit threats or acts of violence against a person’s pet under the offenses of stalking and interstate violation of a protection order,” according to the bill text. It would requires the abuser to pay the “full amount of the victim’s losses,” including the costs for veterinary services.
  • Provide grants from the Dept. of Agriculture to create programs that would provide housing assistance and support services to victims and their pets.
  • Strongly assert the need for states to expand legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims. Only about half of all U.S. states currently have laws protecting the pets of domestic violence victims.

On March 23, the legislation was referred to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.

The PAWS Act is supported by many groups, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence; the ASPCA; the Humane Society of the United States; and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Too many victims feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets,” said Ros-Lehtinen in the press release. “This bill protects both victims and pets. We should continue to work for the day when victims of domestic violence will not be hindered in their decision to leave an abuser.”

Photo credit: Michelângelo Mazzardo Marques Viana