Matt's Blog: PAWS Act Financial Support Comes Just in Time for Domestic Violence Survivors

April 6, 2020

sad dog on a couch

By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA CEO

As our nation responds to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the ASPCA is very encouraged to see the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crimes now soliciting requests for vital emergency and transitional pet shelter and housing assistance grants as a direct result of the passage of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act in 2018. 

This support for survivors of abuse and their pets could not come at a more crucial time, with incidents of domestic violence reportedly rising as a disturbing consequence of nationwide stay-at-home orders and recommendations. 

Living with abusive partners—including acts and threats of violence toward pets—makes leaving dangerous situations very challenging even under normal circumstances. Stay-at-home orders, while vital for virus suppression, make this situation substantially more dangerous for both people and their pets.

Research indicates that 71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, harmed or killed a family pet. And as many as 50% of domestic violence victims remain in abusive situations, fearing what would happen if they left their pets behind. With social service resources under extreme stress right now, opportunities to escape abusive and life-threatening conditions is a primary safety concern.

Those opportunities are more accessible now, thanks to the partnership of animal welfare organizations with Congressional leaders to create the PAWS Act and pass it as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. 

This vital legislation criminalizes the targeting of a domestic partner’s pet with the intent to kill, injure, harass or intimidate and—perhaps most importantly now—also authorized a new federal grant program that makes it possible for people and pets to stay together when escaping domestic violence. After years of advocating for the PAWS Act, as well as for necessary funding for these grants, we’re relieved to see them being made available when people and pets need them most.

Our support for the PAWS Act and our continuing collaborations with partners and policymakers at the federal, state and local levels are one piece of our overall response to help animals, pet owners and animal shelters cope with impacts of the outbreak. To directly assist animal welfare organizations and financially struggling pet owners during this crisis, we recently launched the ASPCA COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Initiative, a $5 million effort which will grant a minimum $2 million to animal welfare organizations in critical need of funds and provide pet food to vulnerable pet owners through regional pet food distribution centers in several U.S. cities. 

This is a stressful and frightening period for all of us—with people often turning to their pets for comfort—but this is not a time to lower our guard or our commitment to people and animals who need our help to survive the crisis. Whether that helping hand belongs to a congressperson, an advocate, a volunteer, a healthcare worker, or just a compassionate citizen fostering a vulnerable animal, we applaud and thank them all.

Originally published in The Hill