Congress can use the power of pets to help women and vets

Each year, Congress works hard to pass bills that will help the American people. While acrimony and partisanship have made this more difficult, lawmakers are considering two bills that have bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and among the American people: H.R. 2327 and H.R. 909, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS), and the Pets And Women Safety (PAWS) Acts of 2017.

Each of these bills involves man’s best friend, and both provide for an underserved segment of America. In the case of H.R. 2327, veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are provided opportunities for healing through grant-funded service dogs. H.R. 909 expands the number of domestic abuse shelters that can accept pets, in order to help abused women escape domestic violence.

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Rep. Cohen is a sponsor of both bills, and PIJAC supports them on behalf of the professional pet care community. Passing these bills now would be a powerful symbol to a public eager for Congress to lead, as National Suicide Prevention Month ends and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins.

The House is already taking important steps to help veterans get the companions they need. On Sept. 26, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing about several bills, including H.R. 2327, that can help servicemembers adjust back to non-combat life. H.R. 2327 has support among myriad veterans’ groups, and 200 House co-sponsors. With about 20 veterans committing suicide each day, the PAWS Act is just one way that Congress can improve assistance to America’s military servicemembers who return from war with physical and mental scars.

H.R. 909 is likewise an important bill with enormous support. It has 230 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate. It will provide assistance to many of the approximately one in four women, and one in seven men, who are domestically abused each year.

Studies are clear that in a home where human abuse is taking place, a pet is also often a target. With nearly half of women saying they have returned to an abusive home out of concern for a pet’s safety, H.R. 909 is clearly necessary to save lives and prevent more harm to innocent human and animal victims.

The bill provides funds so that abuse shelters can accommodate pets, and extends domestic abuse laws so that courts may require abusers to provide restitution for veterinary costs a victim may incur.

These bills recognize the strength of the human-animal bond. Fully 65 percent of U.S. households have a pet; 88 percent of House and Senate offices allow pets in their offices.

Not only is connecting people and pets good business – with 1.3 million jobs, mostly small business, supported in 2015 alone – it is also great for human health. Just owning a pet saves over $11 billion in health care dollars each year, according to a conservative study by George Mason University. Other studies show direct links to less stress, better educational results, and improved health for senior citizens.

Whether in Washington, D.C. or Tennessee, pets are everyone’s best friend. Congress should use the power of pets to bring people together by passing H.R. 2327 and H.R. 909.

Representative Steve Cohen represents the 9th District of Tennessee. Mike Bober is President of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), which is the legislative and advocacy voice of the responsible pet industry.