Legislation would protect pets of domestic violence victims

Published on April 29, 2015
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The AVMA is lending its support to bipartisan legislation that would expand federal protections to the pets of victims of domestic violence.

Human hand holding a dog's paw

The Pet and Women Safety Act (H.R. 1258) would assist both female and male victims who have pets by making it a stalking-related crime to threaten a pet, providing grant funding to increase the availability of alternate housing for pets of domestic violence victims, encouraging states to provide coverage for pets under protection orders, and requiring abusers who harm pets to pay veterinary and other expenses incurred as a result.

“No one should have to make the choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety,” Rep. Katherine Clark said. The Maryland Democrat introduced the PAWS Act on March 4 along with Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

“Too many victims feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets. This bill protects both victims and pets,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

Advocates for the legislation say approximately one-third of domestic violence victims delay leaving abusive relationships out of concern for the well-being of their pets. Supporters also claim that up to 25 percent of victims have reported returning to an abusive partner because they fear for their pets.

“The PAWS Act represents tremendous advancement in recognition that the abuse of animals in domestic violence threatens the safety and well-being of animals and people alike,” said Maya Carless, an executive director at the Animals and Society Institute. “I have personally worked with hundreds of victims who escaped abusive situations with little more than the clothes on their backs and their pets in their arms. Not only were they struggling to find safety for both themselves and their pets, the abusers’ control over their finances left them unable to afford necessary veterinary care for their pets who had been harmed by the abuse.

“While many kindhearted veterinarians help greatly by discounting or donating their services, the PAWS Act would provide financial restitution for the costs of veterinary care in these situations, lifting the burden from the veterinary profession and greatly increasing access to essential veterinary treatment for animal victims of domestic violence.”

The AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, together with the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, recommended that the Association support H.R. 1258 because it is consistent with veterinary efforts to protect the welfare of animals and promote responsible human-animal relationships, including the philosophy encompassed in the AVMA Animal Welfare Principles and its resource publication “Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect.”

Additionally, the AVMA committees concluded the bill is consistent with information regarding co-occurrence of animal abuse and domestic violence and state legislative responses in the wake of research in this area.

By mid-April, the PAWS Act had 57 co-sponsors in Congress and the endorsement of numerous domestic violence and animal welfare organizations.