The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act to become law this week

While women have historically borne the brunt of domestic violence, as many as 86% of domestic violence survivors have reported that their family pets had been threatened, harmed, or killed by their partners. And as many as 48% said they had delayed leaving a dangerous situation out of concern for their pets’ safety.

Yet only only about 3% of domestic violence shelters in the US are currently set up to accommodate companion animals.

That’s set to change once President Trump signs the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the farm bill. But why the farm bill?

Because tucked into the farm bill, which was passed last week by Congress, is a small but vitally important piece of legislation called H.R. 909, otherwise known as the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2017. Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), says the PAWS Act “Sets up a grant program for domestic violence shelters and organizations that provide healthcare and assistance to victims of domestic violence.”

And those grants will include money to enable those shelters to also accommodate the companion animals of domestic violence victims.

Feldman told NEWStat that HABRI has been lobbying Congress to get the PAWS Act passed for several years now. He says the PAWS Act was originally submitted to both the House and the Senate as a freestanding bill, where it could easily have gotten lost amid all the other legislation Congress was considering.

“We were lucky to have the language added to the farm bill,” Feldman said. “When you can get your legislation attached to a moving vehicle like that, [it really helps] to get it over the [goal] line.”

“When a piece of legislation is filed, it’s referred to a committee,” Feldman explained. “In the Senate, because this [bill also] deals with animals, it was referred to the committee on agriculture. And it just so happens this is the year the agriculture committee was reauthorizing the farm bill.” The farm bill is reauthorized every five years and deals with everything from agricultural subsidies to nutritional supplement assistance, and pretty much anything related to animals.

And this year, that includes companion animals.

“The sponsors of the bill and the chairman of the committee all really felt that this was an important issue, and were able to include it in the [Senate’s version of] the farm bill.” The problem was, the House version of the farm bill didn’t have PAWS Act language in it. So the House and Senate negotiated their differences and the Senate’s language was retained in the final version sent to the president, who is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

It helped tremendously that domestic violence is a bipartisan issue.

Feldman says HABRI does research on the various way our companion animals are good for us. “One thing we’ve learned is that pets are really important for victims of trauma; they’re really important for mental health.”

Feldman says this is what made passing the PAWS Act so important. “It just makes sense to have policies that can keep pets and people together when they’re in these traumatic situations.”

Photo credit: © iStock/coldsnowstorm


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