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Congress Considers Bill to Help Domestic Violence Victims Escape With Their Pets

Last month, Republicans ruined a perfectly good bipartisan anti-sex trafficking billby attaching amendments aimed at denying abortions to trafficking victims. After that debacle, you might have given up all hope for an across-the-aisle approach to reducing violence against women. But Annamarya Scaccia at RH Reality Checkreports on a quiet but important bill, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), that should appeal to victims' advocates and animal lovers alike. The bill is called the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, and it would give grant money to domestic violence shelters to set up programs for victims who need to bring pets with them when they escape. 

"Less than 5 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide house pets," Scaccia reports, " ... but a real need exists for more: Research by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) shows between 18 and 48 percent of survivors delay vacating abusive situations because they fear their pet would be in danger if left behind."

As the ASPCA explains, men who beat women often beat and even kill those women's pets. In one study in Wisconsin, the ASPCA reports, "68 percent of battered women revealed that abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock; more than three-quarters of these cases occurred in the presence of the women and/or children to intimidate and control them." 

It makes a grotesque kind of sense: Most of us love and want to protect our pets, and abusers are going to see that love as a weakness to be exploited. The fear that your abuser will hurt your pets to retaliate against you for leaving is very real, and in many cases, that threat is explicitly issued. And of course, abusive households can be just as stressful for pets as people. 

Momentum is growing behind this issue, as domestic violence activists create alliances with animal-related groups and companies such as the ASPCA and Purina, which has given the Urban Resource Initiative money to create dog parks for women living in domestic violence shelters. This new bill is part of that growing awareness—it's a common-sense measure that could help a lot of people at a very low cost. Let's just hope Republicans can resist tacking on an amendment banning pet owners from getting abortions.