Augusta Free Press

Warner, Kaine cosponsor bill to aid domestic violence survivors, their family pets

Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced their support for the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, a bicameral, bipartisan bill to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by violence against their pets.

Multiple studies have shown that domestic abusers often seek to manipulate or intimidate their victims by threatening or harming their pets, but according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only three percent of domestic violence shelters across the country accept pets.

“The PAWS Act helps domestic violence survivors flee their abusers, without having to fear for the safety of their family pets,” the Senators said. “The dilemma of choosing between your own safety and that of a beloved family pet is a serious but often overlooked problem that we must solve.”

The PAWS Act expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The bill also requires the full amount of the victim’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses to include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the victim’s pet.

The ASPCA reported that a study in Wisconsin found 68 percent of domestic violence survivors reported their abusers were also violent towards their animals. A similar study found that as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. A separate 2007 study found that as many as one-third of domestic abuse survivors reported they delayed leaving an abuser for an average of two years out of concern for the safety of their pet.

“The Action Alliance is pleased to see Senators Warner and Kaine supporting legislation that will help survivors of domestic violence get the resources they need without having to compromise between their safety and that of their pets,” said Kristi VanAudenhove, Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “This effort to support survivors in their decision to leave dangerous situations is a welcome step in the right direction.”

“We, as a society, should help people—and the companion animals who share their lives—take steps to get away from their abusers. I heartily thank Senator Warner, who joins Senator Kaine, in helping to institute a new federal tool in the toolbox to fight the horrors of domestic violence,” said Rob Blizard, Executive Director of the Norfolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). “A state’s borders will never stop abusers who mean to threaten, hurt or kill—but the PAWS Act provides a needed federal approach to help victims escape the dangerous behavior of people who should instead be loving and protecting them.”

The PAWS Act is supported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Link Coalition, the Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) Program, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, RedRover, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, YWCA USA, the American Kennel Club, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Below is a list of Animal Welfare Institute “Safe Havens” in Virginia. These sheltering services currently assist the victims of domestic violence who would be aided by the PAWS Act, by placing their companion animals out of harm’s way so that they may seek safety for themselves: