Protecting Pets in Abusive Human Relationships

Ken Tudor, DVM
Written by:
Published: June 9, 2015
Protecting Pets in Abusive Human Relationships

Did you know that 1/3 of domestic violence victims delay leaving an abusive relationship due to concern for their pets? Data also shows that 25% of victims return to an abusive relationship to protect the pets retained by the abusive partner.

I feel extremely naïve to have only recently learned that pet ownership or abuse of a pet could be effectively used by one individual to continue a harmful or abusive relationship with another individual. An article in the latest Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association discusses some of the problems faced by victims and pets of abuse and highlights federal legislation that might help abuse victims.  

The depth of the suffering form abusive situations is not over even if a victim escapes it. This is summed up by the article’s quote from Maya Carless, the executive director of Animals and Society Institute.


“I have personally worked with hundreds of victims who escaped abusive situations with little more than the clothes on their backs and their pets in their arms. Not only were they struggling to find safety for their pets, the abusers’ control over their finances left them unable to afford necessary veterinary care for their pets who have been harmed by the abuse.”

Legislation for Victims of Abuse

“No one should have to make the choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety” says Rep. Katherine Clark of Maryland, co-author of House of Representative Bill 1258. With Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the two congresswomen have drafted the Pet and Women Safety Act or PAWS. The provisions of the legislation will aid both female and male victims of abusive relationships. The specifics of the bill include:

  1. Make threatening a pet a stalking-related crime

  2. Provide grant funding to increase the availability of alternate housing for pets of domestic violence victims

  3. Encourage states to provide coverage for pets under protection orders

  4. Require abusers who harm pets to pay veterinary and other expenses incurred as a result of abuse

Ms. Carless adds about the legislation:

“While many kindhearted veterinarians help greatly by discounting their services, the PAWS Act would provide financial restitution for the costs of veterinary care in these situations, lifting the burden from the veterinary profession and greatly increasing treatment for animal victims of domestic violence.”

This is in part why the American Veterinary Medical Association is backing PAWS with its lobby support. As a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, I generally do not support AVMA lobbying efforts because they largely promote economic advantage for the veterinary profession. In this case, I favor their efforts. The article cites the other reasons that the AVMA feels compelled to support the legislation:


“The AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, together with the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, recommend that the Association support H.R. 1258 because it is consistent with the veterinary efforts to protect the welfare of animals and promote responsible human-animal relationships, including the philosophy in the AVMA Animal Welfare Principles and its resource publication ‘Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect.’”

This law will certainly not do much to end domestic violence and abuse, but hopefully it provides a back-up plan to encourage victims of these relationships to leave before there is serious injury or emotional trauma.

Dr. Ken Tudor

You can find more information here: Directory of Safe Havens for Animals™ Programs – Shelters that are open to pet owners fleeing domestic violence

Image: Soloviova Liudmyla / Shutterstock

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