Press Releases

Washington Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and a group of their colleagues to call for increased funding for programs that support domestic violence survivors and their pets that were established under the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. In a letter to Senate leaders and the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations, the senators highlighted how reports of domestic violence have risen during this pandemic, and that domestic violence shelters that harbor pets – or those looking to do so – need increased support under the next phase of Coronavirus relief legislation.

“Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically across the country in recent weeks as stay-at-home orders subject many victims of family abuse to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser,” the senators wrote. “Yet despite the prevalence of this problem, most shelters in the United States do not admit companion animals, and this lack of capacity often forces victims to remain in abusive situations out of fear of leaving their companion animals behind.”

“Recognizing the importance of addressing this problem, Congress incorporated the PAWS Act into the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate survivors with pets. While the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime is currently working to get FY20 funding into the hands of shelters, that initial allocation did not anticipate the substantial increase in demand for these services,” the senators continued. “We in turn urge no less than $4 million in additional investment for these ETPSHA grants as we look to the next phase in our efforts to support vulnerable populations while addressing and recovering from this crisis.” 

“With the Covid-19 crisis isolating victims with abusive partners, also fearing for a pet’s safety must not be a barrier to finding safe shelter for all family members,” said Sara Amundson, President, Humane Society Legislative Fund. “As many domestic violence shelters are currently unable to accept pets, we thank Senators Peters and McSally for mobilizing about a third of the Senate to jointly seek additional funds for emergency shelter options for domestic violence survivors and their pets. We cannot let the voices of domestic violence victims and their pets go unheard – now is the time step up to ensure they can find the shelter they need to survive.” 

“Domestic abusers use every tool, means, and opportunity they can find to exert power and control over their victims, including survivors’ love for their pets,” said Ruth M. Glenn, President & CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Along with threatening to harm or kill family members or friends, abusers often threaten to hurt or kill beloved pets. Many survivors may remain in abusive relationships in order to protect the companion animals who love and trust them unconditionally. Domestic violence programs are increasingly seeking to accommodate survivors with pets, but many do not have the resources to house pets on- or offsite, pay for veterinary services, and otherwise provide sanctuary for pets along with their owners. Funding for PAWS Act grants are critical to allowing programs to provide the services that survivors with pets need in order to escape abusive relationships.” 

In addition to the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the letter is supported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, ASPCA, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National Animal Care and Control Association, and the Urban Resource Institute.

The PAWS Act expanded existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a survivor’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors with pets. Under the bipartisan bill – which Peters introduced and got signed into law – the full amount of the survivor’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses must include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the survivor’s pet. 

In addition to Feinstein, Peters and McSally, the letter was also signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

The letter is available here and below. 

Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby, and Ranking Member Leahy:

We write today to urge you to provide additional funding to support shelter and transitional housing services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault as you work to develop a CARES 2.0 package. We request this funding include an additional $4 million for the Department of Justice Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance (ETPSHA) grant program authorized by the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act.

Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically across the country in recent weeks as stay-at-home orders subject many victims of family abuse to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser. The presence of new stressors, such as COVID-19-related job losses, have increased the likelihood of domestic violence incidents. Research has also shown that the challenge of leaving an abusive relationship is compounded by the presence of a family pet. Abusers frequently threaten or harm pets as a means to exert power and control. Approximately 50 percent of domestic violence survivors cite the fear of leaving their pets behind with their abuser as a reason for why they remain in abusive situations. Yet despite the prevalence of this problem, most shelters in the United States do not admit companion animals, and this lack of capacity often forces victims to remain in abusive situations out of fear of leaving their companion animals behind.

Recognizing the importance of addressing this problem, Congress incorporated the PAWS Act into the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate survivors with pets. While the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime is currently working to get FY20 funding into the hands of shelters, that initial allocation did not anticipate the substantial increase in demand for these services. We in turn urge no less than $4 million in additional investment for these ETPSHA grants as we look to the next phase in our efforts to support vulnerable populations while addressing and recovering from this crisis. 

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to provide for the immediate, increased needs of domestic violence survivors in CARES 2.0.

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