Domestic violence is more complicated, in terms of the social relationships, than previously understood. Many abusers will harm or threaten the beloved dog or cat of a spouse or partner as a way of exerting control over that person. As many as one-third of domestic violence victims delay their departure from an abusive relationship for up to two years out of fear that their pets will be harmed if they leave. It’s a gross contortion of the human-animal bond, with the abuser trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.
With the growing body of evidence on the link between animal cruelty and human violence, 28 states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders?
In Congress, U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., are tackling this problem head on. Today, Rep. Clark held a news conference in Massachusetts where she announced the introduction of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2014. The PAWS Act, H.R. 5267, would expand federal domestic violence protections to include safeguards for the pets of abuse victims on a national level.
In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only 3 percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four.
This legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provide victims and their families with the help they need. There are countless examples of horrific cruelty used to further torment and intimidate a victim, as in this account from a woman whose cat was killed in front of her, as described in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence:
“The very last thing he did to my cat hurt my heart so bad. He had me stand here and…she was tied to the tree [with]…fishing wire or…thread or something. And he…turned her around, stuffed [fireworks] in her behind and lit it. And I had to stand there and watch my cat explode in my face. And he was like, ‘That could happen to you.’”
That sickening, revolting, and demented scene should never recur, with a different cast of people and animals. And Congress can do something about it. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to help the human and animal victims of domestic violence by cosponsoring H.R. 5267.