Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation to help the estimated one-third of domestic violence victims who prolong their abusive relationships out of concern for the wellbeing of their pets. The bill is H.R. 1258, and has 49 original cosponsors, and is supported by  local and national groups working to end domestic violence and animal abuse.

“Sadly, domestic violence is something one in every four women will experience at some point in their lives,” said Congresswoman Clark. “This isolating experience is made even worse for those who fear for the safety of their pet. Most pet lovers, including me, consider their beloved dog or cat a part of their family. No one should have to make the choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety.  I am grateful for the partnerships we’ve formed across the aisle and between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we crafted a bill that will help save lives.” “I’m proud to work with Rep. Clark on the PAWS Act in order to ensure that victims of domestic violence have all protections available to them,” said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. “Too many victims feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets. This bill protects both victims and pets. We should continue to work for the day when victims of domestic violence will not be hindered in their decision to leave an abuser.”

“Many states allow pets to be included in restraining orders, but what happens when a domestic violence victim must go live with family in another state where pets are not covered?” said Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer of The Humane Society of the United States. “We must have a national policy that safeguards the pets of abuse victims, and recognizes that domestic violence impacts all members of the family—including the four-legged. We are grateful to Representatives Clark and Ros-Lehtinen for working to provide victims and their families with the help they need.”

Recent studies have shown that a common component to domestic abuse is the intentional targeting of pets for abuse to exert control over their intimate partners. As many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. Despite the urgent need, resource strapped domestic violence shelters are rarely able to offer protection for pets accompanying families who are forced to leave a dangerous environment. To date, only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide can accommodate pets.

This legislation expands federal law to include protections for pets of domestic violence victims and establishes a federal grant program to assist in acquiring a safe shelter for pets. The PAWS Act strongly asserts the need for states to expand their legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims.

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