The farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act

While the American public has a well-known view Congress is overly partisan on major public policy issues – from tax reform to immigration to health care to budget and spending issues – that instinct among some lawmakers to treat even lower profile issues in a polarized way is also evident. One policy area that should be an obvious exception to the politics of polarization is the humane treatment of animals, since there is universal opposition among all good people that cruelty is wrong.

One issue that should be a no-brainer for the Congress is the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, H.R. 909/ S.322 led by U.S. Reps. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race MORE (R-Calif.) and Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkThe Special Olympics are safe, but what about other programs DeVos would cut? Congress might finally fix the holes in workplace sexual harassment law Candace Owens clip becomes most watched C-SPAN Twitter video from a House hearing MORE (D-Mass.) and Sens. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks GOP campaign group goes after Senate Dems over 'Medicare for all' Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE (D-Mich.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.). After years of inattention to the issue of House and Senate leaders, there is a real chance that the measure could be enacted this year, as a provision of the massive farm bill.

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Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick Roberts Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Republicans writing off hard-line DHS candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seeks tougher rules on asylum seekers MORE (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE (D-Mich.) included the measure in their version of the farm bill. That provision is supported by a remarkable array of players -- Animal Wellness Action, Nestle Purina, Bayer, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sherriff’s Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Children’s Advocacy Center, and numerous other corporations, law enforcement, animal protection and domestic violence organizations.

The PAWS Act is something every lawmaker can and should support. It will provide protections for pets of domestic violence victims and allow for a reasonable grant program to help domestic violence shelters provide accommodations for their pets. An astounding 85 percent of women in domestic violence shelters have reported that their pets were threatened, harmed or killed by their abusers.

Yet only 3 percent of shelters currently accommodate pets, and as a result, as many as 65 percent of victims choose to remain in dangerous situations because they don’t want to abandon their pets and leave them vulnerable to a vengeful abuser. If we are serious about combatting this kind of intimate violence, we should have policies that recognize the bond between people and their pets and take steps to help women and pets by ending this vicious cycle of intimidation and violence.

The bond between humans and animals is a very strong emotional connection that can be easily exploited and manipulated. And it’s something that affects hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of women who are the victims of domestic violence. There are countless examples of abusers who have tortured, beaten and even set animals on fire to send a chilling signal to their partners and spouses. It is about asserting control and using an entirely helpless animal as a pawn or a lever to keep a women in a life-threatening situation.

During the years I worked in Congress, and in my time as an advocate I’ve watched the House leadership hold votes on dozens of human trafficking and domestic abuse legislative initiatives. But never has the Congress addressed the dynamics in play between the lawbreakers and the women and the pets in their lives. I’m calling on my fellow Republicans and all House and Senate leaders to stand up against this misuse of power and make sure the PAWS Act is included in the farm bill conference report.

The days of excuse-making are done. We have a serious, life-and-death issue that requires concerted action. If lawmakers deflect the issue on spurious grounds, whether jurisdictional or otherwise, they are putting women and the pets they love in jeopardy.

No victim of domestic violence should ever have to choose between her own safety and the safety of her beloved pet. This is a win-win all the way around, and just in time for the upcoming election – surely passage of the PAWS Act is something that will resonate with the American voters in November.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.