An estimated one in four women and one in seven men are subjected to domestic abuse each year, a reality that is especially important during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Far from a simple cultural and public policy challenge, domestic abuse can be physical, psychological, verbal — even financial. It involves malicious manipulation of a partner in ways that can harm at a foundational level.
As we head into the holiday season, it is important for the public and lawmakers alike to know how to help violence survivors. One tool to combat this crisis and raise public awareness is a bill Congress is currently considering — the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which provides more resources to expand the life-changing, life-saving work of domestic violence shelters.
Domestic abuse can take many forms, and people are not the only victims. It often involves companion animals — each year, nearly one million animals are abused or killed due to domestic violence. Nearly half of abused women stay in harmful relationships out of concern for the welfare of a beloved pet. Literally, these women are putting themselves further at risk to protect their companion animals.
Yet, just three percent of America’s domestic violence shelters allow pets. The PAWS Act would help correct this by providing resources to these heroic, yet often cash-strapped, organizations. It would also allow courts to force abusers to reimburse for pet health care costs and broaden the federal code’s definition of stalking to include abusing pets when committing domestic violence.
People are, generally, happier and healthier in the presence of companion animals. Scientifically proven benefits of the human-animal bond include decreased blood pressure, reduced anxiety and enhanced feelings of well-being. This bond is why about two-thirds of U.S. households have a pet, and why Congress has an Animal Protection Caucus. We all care about pets, yet in an abusive relationship, a woman’s emotional connection to a pet is exploited and used against her to cause hurt and feelings of guilt. When survivors of domestic violence are assured that their pets are no longer in danger, former victims gain far greater peace of mind and physical safety.
Each of the PAWS Act components helps to eliminate barriers women face when escaping violence. This act will be a tremendous victory for animal welfare, victims of domestic violence, and the innate human-animal bond. Furthermore, victory won’t be limited to just the women, children, and pets who benefit directly from the PAWS Act. The bill will also reduce the potential billions of dollars in health care, counseling, lost work and other economic costs incurred by those who escape and survive domestic violence.
This bill is supported across the companion animal support spectrum as well as the political aisle. It was a major focus of speakers at Pet Night on Capitol Hill on October 4, where pet care professionals raised awareness of the importance of pets to human beings. There is a reason that so many can come past other disagreements to support the PAWS Act – it is simply good public policy, and it will help America to better address domestic violence.
We urge Congress to pass this bill and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump Heritage Foundation names new president Fewer than 4 in 10 say US is on right track: poll MORE to support it on behalf of his family’s clear affinity for pets. Today, many women have to choose between their own safety and that of their beloved pet. The PAWS Act can change that.
Mike Bober is President of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), which is the legislative and advocacy voice of the responsible pet industry. Joyce Lee is President of Bayer’s North American Animal Health business. Bayer has created www.petandwomensafety.com, a hub of news about the PAWS Act.