Spousal Abusers Use Pets To Maintain Control By Manipulating Victims By Inciting A Sense Of Fear That The Pet Will Be Hurt If They Leave; My Sisters’ Place Fighting To Stop This Sad & Dangerous Trend
Schumer Pushes ‘PAWS Act’ To Assist Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelters Like One In Westchester; 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 My Sisters’ Place in White Plains, NY, 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 highlighted examples of these dangerous situations with My Sisters’ Place and the Westchester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Schumer explained how Westchester advocates are helping to protect domestic violence victims and their beloved family member pets. The Senator called on Congress to pass the Protect Pets And Women From Domestic Violence (PAWS) Act, which would give Westchester domestic violence victims and their pets greater access to safe sheltering options, as well as provide stronger legal protections to pets. Schumer also explained how this bill would propel efforts in Westchester 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. In Westchester, My Sisters’ Place, in collaboration with Westchester County’s SPCA, provides free pet protection to victims of domestic violence who have fled dangerous situations. Through its Pet Safety Program, My Sisters’ Place is able to give victims peace of mind knowing that their animal family members are also in a safe, supportive environment. Schumer said that the PAWS Act would not only help fund centers that have programs like the Pet Safety Program at My Sisters’ Place, but also help set up similar centers across New York and across the country.
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 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, with 1 specifically in Westchester County. There are 3 in the greater Hudson Valley area. Schumer said that these centers should serve as models for the country and more must be done to provide more pet-friendly centers.
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 Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Chief Executive Officer at My Sisters' Place, and Cheryl Greenberg, Chief Development Officer at My Sisters' Place.
“My Sisters' Place is glad that the PAWS Act will provide added protections for victims of domestic violence who have pets.  For over a decade our Pet Safety Program, in collaboration with the SPCA of Westchester, has given victims peace of mind knowing that their animal family members are also in a safe, supportive environment. The threat of harm to a beloved pet left behind prevents many victims of domestic abuse from leaving and seeking life-saving services,” saidKaren Cheeks-Lomax, Esq., Chief Executive Officer for My Sisters’ Place.
“The Center for Safety & Change strongly advocates for passage of the PAWS Act, and we stand with Senator Schumer and the bill’s sponsors in their efforts to bring to light the link between intimate partner violence and animal abuse,” said Elizabeth Santiago, Executive Director, Center for Safety & Change.  “Our goal with our ‘Paws for Safety’ program is to remove another weapon that a batterer can use to threaten and coerce the family into staying in an abusive situation, and we encourage all who need this service to contact our hotline in Rockland County at 845-634-3344.”
“At the SPCA of Westchester, we see the tragic effects of domestic violence on innocent animals. The PAWS Act will help to stem this cruelty while allowing human victims of abuse to concentrate on their own safety and healing. Thank you, Senator Schumer, for your compassion for victims of domestic violence as well as their beloved companion animals,” said Shannon Laukhuf, Executive Director of the SPCA of Westchester.

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