PAWS Act would add protections for pets in domestic violence situations

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A bill introduced in congress aims to protect victims of domestic violence by giving more protection their pets.

U.S. Senators from Virginia, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced their support and co-sponsorship for the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act this month.

Studies show abusers will often try to manipulate their victims by abusing or threatening to harm their beloved pets if the victim tries to seek help.

"They stay in the dangerous situation so they can protect the pet," said Elyse Nepa, who works for Samaritan House, a non-profit shelter in Virginia Beach for domestic violence and human trafficking victims.

Samaritan House is one of just three percent of shelters nationwide to accept pets, according to the ASPCA.

The PAWS Act would provide grant money for those shelters in addition to expanding existing domestic violence protections to include threats or abuse against a victim's pet and other provisions.

Rob Blizard, Executive Director of the Norfolk SPCA, says he's been pushing for legislation like this for years.

"We have worked with Samaritan House in the past," said Blizard. "It's important to get those pets out of those situations."

And despite the word 'women' in the PAWS name, Blizard says the bill includes men who are abused too.

"I like to follow legislation so I will be checking to see if the bill actually goes onto the floor, receives the vote and gets more support," he said. "What's interesting is that right now sexual assault has been so much in the news so perhaps this will encourage further action on this bill."

Sen. Warner's office tells News 3 the PAWS Act has not moved past the introduction phase.

Below is a list of Virginia domestic violence shelters provided by the offices of Sens. Warner and Kaine that assist victims in protecting their pets and would be assisted by the PAWS Act.

  • Abingdon - People Incorporated Domestic Violence Program
  • Alexandria - Alexandria Domestic Violence Program & Animal Welfare League of Alexandria: Safekeeping Program
  • Alexandria - Fairfax Victim Assistance Network
  • Alexandria - North Virginia Family Services
  • Alexandria - Peaceful Families Project
  • Amherst - Amherst County Commission Against Domestic Violence
  • Arlington - Animal Welfare League of Arlington
  • Arlington - Doorways for Women & Families
  • Ashland - Hanover Safe Place
  • Bedford - Bedford Domestic Violence Coalition
  • Charlottesville - She: Shelter for Help in Emergency
  • Christiansburg - Petsafe of the New River Valley
  • Covington - Safehome Systems
  • Dumfries - Acts: Turning Points
  • Fairfax - Artemis House Shelter House
  • Fairfax - Fairfax County Animal Shelter / Fairfax County Police Department
  • Fredericksburg - Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence / Empowerhouse
  • Gate City - Hope House of Scott County
  • Glen Allen - Henrico County MHC-Domestic Violence Treatment
  • Gloucester - Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society
  • Gloucester - Laurel Shelter
  • Harrisonburg - Cat's Cradle of The Shenandoah Valley
  • Harrisonburg - First Step: A Response to Domestic Violence
  • Herndon - Fairfax County Women's Shelter: Artemis House
  • Leesburg - Loudon Abused Women's Shelter/emergency Shelter for Pets
  • Leesburg - Loudon County & Leesburg City Victims Witness Office
  • Lexington - Project Horizon
  • Marion - Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society
  • Martinsville - Citizens Against Family Violence
  • New Kent - Project Hope at Quin Rivers Agency
  • Norfolk - YWCA Of South Hampton Roads - Women in Crisis
  • North Tazewell - Clinch Valley Community Action-Family Crisis Services
  • Norton - Family Crisis Support Services
  • Onancock - Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Portsmouth - Family Violence Prevention
  • Portsmouth - Help and Emergency Response
  • Radford - Women's Resource Center of The New River Valley
  • Richmond - Domestic Violence Interventions
  • Richmond - Richmond SPCA/Sheltering Animals of Abused Families
  • Richmond - Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline
  • Richmond - YWCA - Women's Advocacy Program
  • Roanoke - Tap Domestic Violence Services
  • Roanoke - Turning Point - The Salvation Army
  • Rocky Mount - Franklin County Family Resource Center
  • Staunton - New Directions Center
  • Virginia Beach - Samaritan House
  • Virginia Beach - Virginia Beach SPCA: Temporary Foster Program Service
  • Williamsburg - Avalon Center
  • Winchester - The Laurel Center
  • Woodstock - Response, Inc.
  • Wytheville - Family Resource Center