PAWS Act No Different Than No Pet Left Behind Law

New Legislation Increases Protections for Companion Animals

HSUS Flyer
Anyone Can Be a Victim. Humane Society of the United States

There may be new hope for people dealing with violence at home. Victims of domestic violence come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Domestic violence touches the lives of the both the wealthy and the poor; and reaches across lines of social and professional prominence or obscurity. Domestic violence can ruin the lives of adults and children of both genders, and many times crosses generational lines as well.

Many victims report their partner abused them because of prior abuse by a parent. Indeed, these cycles of domestic violence can be traced back to a time when domestic violence wasn’t even “a thing.” That wasn’t very long ago.

Domestic violence also crosses species, as the victims are not all humans. As public awareness of The Link between cruelty to animals and abuse of human beings increases, more is being done to help all victims of domestic violence.

The 114th Congress has only about seven months of life left in it, and the political landscape is chaotic and contentious. Yet, animal rights activists are hopeful that the House and the Senate will consider a measure to help women in need of emergency shelter from an abusive situation.

The Pet and Women Safety Act, or PAWS, is an important piece of legislation that, if passed, would help women and children escape dangerous situations by providing a plan to keep their companion animals safe.

Passage of the PAWS act is important because women often delay going into a safe shelter since they are not allowed to take their companion animals with them. It doesn’t take a complicated study to know that most companion animal owners see and treat their animals as members of the family. Just ask anyone with a furry, finned or feathered family member; or read the stock market reports.

Even when our country was facing a recession, the American Pet Products Association says investing in companies catering to cats, dogs and an assortment of other species is a good idea. The industry is profitable to the tune of $45.5 billion.

So when forced to choose between her own safety and that of an unconditionally-loving animal on whom she has redirected her affections from someone who is abusive, a woman just may stay home and risk her life so she can protect her animal. Nobody should ever be forced to choose between her own safety and that of a beloved animal.

There is, of course, also the issue of an animal’s right to be safe and provided for in cases of emergency. After Hurricane Katrina, government officials were forced to recognize that if people were going to obey orders to evacuate precarious areas, there had to be provisions for the family pet. Far too many people were putting themselves at risk because they wouldn’t obey authorities who were ordering them to leave their pets behind. This proved disastrous since it took weeks, in some cases, for homeowners to return to their homes only to find emaciated, dead or dying animals.

I remember watching the U.S. Coast Guard evacuating the people from the rooftops.

There was one piece of footage that stands out among the hours of horrifying videos of flood victims. An elderly man was on the roof with his dog, waving frantically to the helicopter pilot. When the basket was lowered down, the Coast Guardsman, or “Coastie” assisted the man into the basket. I’m sure I’m not the only one who held my breath waiting to see what would happen next. I heard a collective sigh of relief across the country when the Coastie then gently lifted the dog and placed him in the man’s arms before signaling for the basket to be raised. But that dog was one of the lucky ones. Far too many animals suffered and died and the tragic loss of the lives of countless companion animals during Katrina inspired Congress to sign the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, better known as “No Pets Left Behind.” Signed into law by President Bush, it required first responders and emergency operations managers to have a plan to accommodate family and service animals.

The penalty for not following the law was the possible loss of federal disaster relief funds.

Natural disasters are no different for the victims than disasters at home, and so the PAWS act should be a non-contentious, easy fix on which members from both sides of the aisle can agree. Not only would it include pets in existing protections, it would also provide federal grant money to assist domestic violence agencies to accommodate the companion animals of their victims by building pet-friendly battered women’s shelters, creating partnerships with local animal rescue agencies or pay to have a victim’s animals transported to friends or family members out of state.

In the House, H.R. 1258 was introduced by Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). In the Senate, S 1559 was introduced by Senators Kelly Avotte (R-NH) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

And while getting both the left and the right to agree on anything is next to impossible, these bills are being sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, which should put it on the fast track to being signed into law.

The Humane Society of the United States, offers a directory of Animal Welfare Institute Safe Havens