New law aims to protect victims and their pets of domestic violence

MGN Online

Every nine seconds.

That's how often another woman in the United States falls victim to domestic violence.

In fact, any member of a household can become a victim of domestic violence: spouses or partners, children, elderly relatives, and even companion animals.

Recent studies show human victims are reluctant to leave their abusive relationship if they can't take their pets with them, for the fear of what the abuser might do to their pets.

No one should have to choose between leaving an abuser and protecting a beloved pet, yet far too many women are forced to make this very choice.

That's why one act in the newly passed Farm Bill hopes to change those statistics.

Hoping to help bridge the gap between the need for services for domestic violence survivors with pets and the ability of agencies to meet those needs, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act provides funding to local abuse shelters to enable them to better meet the housing needs of survivors with pets.

The new law also includes pets, service, and emotional support animals, and horses in federal law pertaining to interstate stalking, protection order violations, and restitution. This would not only protect victims from their abusers but pets, too.

The PAWS act had been passed in 32 states but was not passed in Missouri.

The Missouri State Coalition Against Domestic Violence was hopeful that one representative's bill would help push the state in the direction of approving the act.

"The PAWS Act is really important because it recognizes that pets are members of our family," Matthew Huffman, the Public Affairs Director said.
"For people who are experiencing abuse when they have to make the decision on leaving a pet behind or staying in an abusive relationship it can be a really difficult decision," he said.
"This act could open doors by providing funding so that no one has to make that decision."

True North, a women's and children's shelter in Columbia experiences that tough decision in almost the cases they see.

"Often times we see are women are hesitant to leave because the abuser has harmed the pet and they are fearful for that pet," Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger, the Executive Director for True North of Columbia said.
"For these women, that pet is a source of healing and love."

Eichenberger said asking victims of domestic abuse to leave their pets is like asking them to abandon their child. She says leaving is the hardest part but that's why True North is there to help.

"It is really hard to leave sometimes. You are married, you are with someone, someone you built a life with and it can be scary," she said.
"But having your abuser abuse those pets is another way to control them, which is why this act needs to pass."

Representative David Gregory was a sponsor for House Bill 2374. It was his second time sponsoring it, but this time he changed the means for protective orders. The new section changes the law regarding protective orders by adding abuse by the harm or threatened harm of an animal as a ground for the issuance of a protective order.

Huffman and Eichenberger said they hope it passes for the sake of all domestic violence victims in Missouri.

True North and other shelters in the state are able to house pets in off-site housing, but if the PAWS Act passes, survivors would once again be able to live in a safe place with their four-legged friends once again.

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