In a huge step forward for our nation’s companion animals, U.S. Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have come together to introduce the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act (H.R. 5267), landmark legislation extending existing federal protections to pets of domestic violence victims.
The connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence is a well-documented one and, sadly, many pets are often used as pawns in domestic disputes. Seventy-one percent of women entering domestic violence shelters have reported that their abusers also harmed, threatened, and in severe cases, killed their pets. What’s more, as many as half of those victims delay seeking help and remain in these dangerous environments because they fear for the safety of the pets they are forced to leave behind.
If passed, the Act would prohibit abusers from crossing state lines to harm a domestic partner’s pets, making it a punishable offense under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It also adds veterinary care to the list of restitution costs recoverable by victims, authorizes federal grant funding to provide assistance and housing to victims’ pets in need of emergency shelter and recommends states extend legal protections to include pets in court-issued protective orders in domestic dispute cases.
While twenty-seven states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have passed laws allowing pets to be included in protective orders, no such legislation currently exists at the federal level, making the PAWS Act the first of its kind to explicitly address this need.
By ensuring strong protections and valuable resources at the federal level, the PAWS Act gives victims the security they need to get help and protects their beloved pets from the hands of abusers. We are so thankful to Reps. Clark and Ros-Lehtinen for their strong leadership in taking this important step in the fight against animal cruelty and domestic violence.
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