DECEMBER 20, 2018- WASHINGTON, D.C.- Today, Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) celebrated the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act being signed into law. Originally introduced in 2014, the bill was passed as part of the Farm bill and is heralded by bipartisan lawmakers and advocates as a central solution in the fight to end domestic violence. 

“No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet,” said Congresswoman Katherine Clark. “This law empowers survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet. I’m grateful for the partnerships we’ve formed between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we will help save lives.”

“I am so honored to have joined Katherine on the PAWS Act, which is an important step in supporting victims of domestic violence.” Said Representative Ros-Lehtinen. “Men and women in abusive relationships will often have to choose between seeking the help they need and the safety and wellbeing of their pets. This legislation opens resources for those who find themselves in abusive relationships to free themselves without having to endure the psychological and emotional trauma of not knowing whether or not their pets will be safe. While there is still work to be done to end these horrific abuses, this legislation is a great step to encourage victims of domestic violence to seek the help they need”.

The PAWS Act expands federal domestic violence protections to include protections for the pets of domestic violence victims and establishes a federal grant program specifically designed to assist victims of domestic violence to safely shelter their pets when they leave their abusers.

The measure also calls for amending the definition of stalking in federal criminal code to include “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”

Additionally, it creates a criminal penalty for those who travel across state lines with the intent of violating a protection order against a pet; and includes the cost of veterinary services in the mandatory restitution for domestic violence victims' losses.

Nearly one-third of domestic violence victims reported delaying their decision to leave out of concern for what would happen to their pets. Currently, only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide can accommodate pets. Victims who are forced to leave their pets behind because of a lack of pet sheltering options report an ongoing dread for the safety of their pet. Abusers often continue to use a pet left behind as a coercive tool even after the victim has fled. According to one study, as many as 25 percent of participants reported returning to an abusive relationship out of concern for their pets.

“The inclusion of the PAWS Act in the Farm Bill will help victims of domestic violence and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the shelter and safety they need,” said Richard Patch, Vice President of Federal Affairs for the ASPCA. “We are grateful to Representative Clark for her steadfast leadership on this issue and we applaud Congress for including this groundbreaking provision in the Farm Bill.”

“For too long, women, their children and pets have been kept in abusive situations simply because they had no shelter for the entire family. Representative Clark had the vision to address this problem through her PAWS Act, and she worked tirelessly to get it included in the Farm Bill to remove that deterrent,” stated Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.  “This provision will make it easier for family members to flee a dangerous situation by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizing grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (as only 3 percent currently allow) or arrange for pet shelter. We commend Rep. Clark for this successful effort.”

PAWS has support of the nation’s leading domestic violence and animal welfare advocates including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Link Coalition, the Sheltering Animals & Families Together Program, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, and RedRover.