Survivors of domestic abuse and their pets have new protections in place thanks to a piece of legislation tucked away in the $867 billion Farm Bill signed into law late last month.
The Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was drafted to protect “victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by acts of violence or threats of violence against their pets” by setting aside $3 million in federal funds to cover costs associated with keeping pets at alternative housing for domestic abuse survivors.
Along with the provisioning of funds, the PAWS Act also expands the federal definition of stalking to explicitly include pets. Under the new definition, stalking now includes “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”
“Sadly, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Pets often become a member of the family, and the idea of leaving a beloved pet behind in a dangerous situation is unthinkable. By ensuring that people experiencing domestic abuse don’t have to make the decision between finding safety for themselves or staying behind to protect their pet, we can empower survivors to seek help.”
— Katherine Clark, United States Representative (D-MA)
For many domestic abuse survivors, the decision to leave dangerous living situations has been a decision between seeking safety for themselves and condemning their pets to harm or death. Many shelters for survivors of domestic abuse do not accept pets, leaving those staying there to find alternative arrangements for their pets, if any at all. Consequently, one third of domestic abuse survivors report delaying leaving their abusive situations over concerns for the welfare of their pets.
With the PAWS Act now signed into law, survivors of domestic abuse and their pets will have more protections in place and more options available when it comes to finding safe places to stay.