PAWS becomes LAW!

 width=On December 18, 2018, REACH was pleased to join Congresswoman Katherine Clark along with advocates from the MSPCA, ASPCA, HSUS and fellow DV organizations for an important announcement. The press conference was covered by many media outlets, all of whom crowded into the MSPCA Angell West facility in Waltham – also occupied by several rescue dogs (available for adoption) and a few furry friends of the human attendees.

The reason for the gathering was the passage of the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. This bill was originally introduced in 2014 after Congresswoman Clark arrived in DC. It was passed as part of the Farm bill and signed by the President on December 20, 2018.

Clark fought for legislation in Massachusetts before heading to Washington. For years, she has advocated that no one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet. The Congresswoman’s intention is that “this law empowers survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet.”

According to a press release from Congresswoman Clark’s office, “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.” 

At REACH, we hear the stories from survivors about abusers injuring or threatening to injure or withhold pets as a tool of abuse. So often, survivors stay with an abusive partner in order to protect others – including pets. In other cases, survivors have returned to an abusive situation because they are unable to find a safe place for their pet. In one study cited by the above press release, “as many as 25 percent of participants reported returning to an abusive relationship out of concern for their pets.” REACH operates a shelter program and we know the challenges of supporting a survivor with a pet in a community where children or adults have fears or allergies to animals. We welcome the technical assistance and/or funding from the PAWS Act that can help us and other programs in creating safe places for pets and the people who love them.

We are so proud and grateful for Congresswoman Clark’s partnership and dedication on this issue. She said it best at the press conference – “Together, we will help save lives.”

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.