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Spousal Abusers Use Pets To Maintain Control By Manipulating Victims Into Staying Or Inciting A Sense Of Fear That The Pet Will Be Hurt If They Leave; The Willow Center and Lollypop Farms Are Fighting To Stop This Sad & Dangerous Trend

Schumer Pushes ‘PAWS Act’ To Assist Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelters Like New Monroe County Domestic Violence Shelter Set to Open in October; Legislation Also Expands Legal Protections For Pets & Holds Abusers More Accountable For Inflicting Harm 

Schumer: Congress Should Give A PAWS Up To Help Victims Of Domestic Violence Protect Their Pets 

Standing at the Monroe County Crime Victims Resource Center, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that many domestic violence victims stay with their abusers because the safety of a pet is at stake. Schumer explained how Rochester advocates, at places like Willow Center (formerly known as Alternatives for Battered Women), are helping to protect domestic violence victims and their beloved family member pets. Today, there are no pet-friendly emergency shelters in Monroe County, forcing domestic violence victims to make the terrible choice to stay in an abusive situation or to leave their family pets behind. Currently, Willow, in consultation with partners like Lollypop Farm, is planning to construct an expanded shelter in Monroe County to better serve victims of domestic violence that will include an on-site pet shelter, however funding support will be needed to sustain and operate this new facility. In response the Senator called on Congress to pass the Protect Pets and Women from Domestic Violence (PAWS) Act, which would give Rochester area domestic violence victims and their pets greater access to safe sheltering options, provide funding to support new shelters, as well as provide stronger legal protections for abused pets. Schumer explained how this bill would propel efforts in Rochester that address domestic violence and save lives.

“Victims of domestic violence should not have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pets, and that’s why the PAWS Act is so important,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “All too often abusers use family pets as leverage against their victims and this legislation targets the neglected circumstance that results from this type of abuse – one where abusers use beloved pets to maintain control over their victims. The PAWS Act will finally provide domestic violence victims who are pet owners with the opportunity to keep their families together while escaping a dangerous situation.”

According to the Humane Society, up to one-third of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation because they fear the safety of their pet, and up to one-fourth return to an abuser due to concern for their pet. Currently, there is no service in Monroe County that provides pet protection to victims of domestic violence who have fled dangerous situations. Schumer explained that the Willow Center, in collaboration with its partners at Lollypop Farm, is planning to construct an expanded shelter in Monroe County that would better serve victims of domestic violence by including an on-site pet shelter. However, funding support will be needed to sustain and operate this new facility. Schumer said that the PAWS Act would not only help fund centers that have programs, but also help set up similar centers across New York and across the country – just like the one Willow Center is aiming to construct.

Schumer explained that pets are often used by abusers to maintain control over their victims. For instance, abusers often manipulate their victims into staying by exploiting the emotional bond between the pet and the victim and inciting a sense of fear in the victim that the pet will be hurt once they leave. As a result, often times, domestic violence victims stay in an abusive setting in order to protect their pets. Most domestic violence shelters do not have accommodations for pets and so, staying with the abuser may unfortunately be the victim’s only option. Even when victims do leave the situation, abusers may continue to threaten violence to pets in order to punish the victims for leaving or to pressure the victim to return.

According to a 2004 publishing report compiled by Willow Center, 65 percent of domestic violence victims do not leave the abuser because of concern about what might happen to their pets. According to a January 2016 report from the Journal News, roughly 70 percent of people charged with cruelty to animals were known by police for other violent behavior. In addition, abused animals are found in approximately 60 percent of homes where child abuse or neglect occurred. The report also cited the fact that abused animals are found in 88 percent of homes where physical child abuse occurred. Finally, 75 percent of the incidents of animal abuse occurred in the presence of children to psychologically control and coerce them. Schumer said these facts further underscore the need to have these types of programs that protect both domestic violence victims and their beloved family member pets.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 50 percent of domestic violence victims say that their pets have been threatened or abused. However, only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters are currently equipped to accommodate animals. There are currently more than 20 pet-friendly Domestic Violence centers throughout New York State, but there are none in Monroe County. Schumer said that these centers should serve as models for the country and more must be done to provide more pet-friendly centers.

Willow Center provides life-changing, and often life-saving, services reaching over 7,000 individuals each year in the Greater Rochester region.  It currently operates the only licensed domestic violence emergency shelter in Monroe County. It has 40 beds and serves 550 women and children each year, however the shelter is inadequate. Namely, is not large enough to accommodate demand from local domestic violence victims and it does not offer on-site care for family pets. While Willow has a longstanding relationship with Lollypop Farm Humane Society of Greater Rochester to provide temporary foster care of pets off site for up to 30 days, the Willow Center clients report anxiety about being separated from their pets, many of which have also been abused. The result is many victims will not come to the Willow shelter despite the pet foster care option. In response Willow is currently planning to construct a new emergency shelter that will be 23 percent larger – 49 beds up from 40 beds – adding 3,200 “safe bed nights” in Rochester each year for domestic violence victims and their children. Additionally, the new shelter will include a new on-site pet shelter, co-located with the new expanded emergency shelter which is slated to open in October 2016.  Lollypop Farm has been actively involved in advising Willow Center on the design of the new Pet Area and will continue to provide “overflow” temporary foster care of pets if needed. While the funding for the construction of this new on-site pet shelter is secure, Willow will seek outside funding sources to maintain and operate this facility, such as the funding sources that would be provided by the PAWS Act.

Willow has reported that the lack of a pet-friendly shelter in Monroe County has been a barrier for Rochester area domestic violence victims to leave an abusive situation. For example, Willow officials have reported the case of one Rochester area suburban school teacher whose boyfriend threatened to kill her and himself. While she feared for her life, she would not come into the Willow shelter without her two dogs and three cats, and instead chose to stay in her car with the five animals and only come to Willow for a meal and shower. For other victims, their pet is often a critical source of support and unconditional love during a difficult time and the current arrange of off-site foster care of pets at Lollypop Farm does not allow victims access to their pet. 

Schumer is pushing his colleagues in Congress to pass the PAWS Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. Schumer said this bill would help provide safe sheltering options to domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. First, the legislation will provide access to USDA grant funds that would increase the availability of sheltering options for pets of domestic violence victims. Schumer explained that, at times, victims of domestic violence are hesitant to leave a dangerous situation because they either do not know what to do with their pet or are concerned about the wellbeing of their pet in their abuser’s hands.

In addition, this legislation would expand protections for pets of domestic violence victims. For instance, the legislation makes threats against a pet, a stalking-related crime. Schumer said that, in some cases, an abuser might threaten to hurt or even kill a victim’s beloved pet. This bill would make that a crime. Moreover, the legislation requires abusers who harm pets to pay veterinary bills and other related expenses.

Schumer was joined by Jaime Saunders, President and CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center, and Alice Calabrese, President and CEO of at the Monroe County Crime Victims Resource Center.

“Leaving an abusive partner is hard enough without facing the awful situation of leaving a family pet behind and in harm’s way without a safe place to go together,” said Jaime Saunders, President & CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center. “The passage of the PAWS Act will help survivors of domestic violence by including pets in Orders of Protection and by supporting shelters like Willow Center with onsite pet accommodations, removing an unnecessary barrier to safety for the entire family.”

“Lollypop Farm applauds the proposed Pet and Women Safety Act,” said Alice Calabrese, President and CEO of Lollypop Farmthe Humane Society of Greater Rochester. “Many victims of domestic violence remain in unsafe situations for fear of leaving their beloved pet in harm's way. There is a great need to provide protection and safe haven for both women and their pets to ensure that deep human-animal bonds are not lost—especially when they are needed most.”