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'Pets and Women Safety Act' aims to protect animals of domestic violence victims

(ABC4 News/CNN) A new law signed by President Trump will help protect pets of domestic violence survivors and encourage victims to leave their abusive relationships.

According to a study called Battered Pets and Domestic Violence, approximately one-third of domestic violence victims said they delayed their decision to enter a shelter out of concerns for their pets' welfare.

The Urban Resource Institute reported only three percent of domestic violence shelters in the U.S. can accommodate pets, often forcing survivors to decide between leaving their pets behind or remaining in an abusive environment and risking further abuse.

ABC 4 News spoke to a domestic violence survivor, who we'll call Jane Doe to protect her identity. She said her former abuser was not just violent towards her, but also her animals.

"He was always hitting the dog, kicking the dog, and very angry towards the dog too," said Doe.

She said when she left her abusive environment several years ago, there were not enough resources to help her if she took her dog and four cats with her.

"I was always worried about what would happen to them if I left, if they were going to be taken care of, what he was going to do to them, where they would end up. I could never find somewhere to go to take them," said Doe.

Doe said her ex starved her four cats and locked her dog up in the bathroom before chaining it outside. The dog eventually escaped, but was hit by a car.

"I was super devastated that I had to leave him in that position. I felt like it was my fault that he ended up being hit and basically starved. He lived his life confined in a bathroom," said Doe.

Doe now works closely with local rescue groups and animal shelters. She said in addition to the emotional and physical trauma that victims suffer, some also deal with the shaming of surrendering their pets.

"There are stereotypes behind it...the bashing that some people will get for turning over their animals to a humane society or shelter. They don't understand how desperate they are to find a better situation for their pets," said Doe.

The Pets and Women Safety Act (or PAWS, for short) aims to change all this.

According to CNN, the act expands federal domestic violence protections to include protections for the pets of domestic violence victims. It creates a federal grant program to help domestic violence programs assist clients in finding shelter for their pets when they leave their abusers.

Through its grant program, PAWS aims to support the construction and operating expenses of new or existing pet shelter and housing. It also supports short-term shelter and housing assistance, such as expenses incurred for the temporary shelter, housing, boarding or fostering of the pets of domestic violence victims.

The measure also calls for amending the definition of stalking in federal criminal code to include 'conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.'

The act creates a criminal penalty for those who travel across state lines with the intent of violating a protection order against a pet.

"I think it's an amazing bill that has been passed," said Doe. "It's going to give victims hope that they are not only going to be protected themselves, but their animals, who they care so much about, will be protect as well."


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