MADISON (WKOW) — Pets of domestic violence victims are now protected under federal law.
Just before the holidays and the stalemate that triggered the government shutdown, federal lawmakers were able to agree on a bipartisan measure that allows victims to include their pets in protection orders across state lines.
The law, known as the Pets and Women Safety Act (PAWS) also provides grant money for organizations that shelter pets when a victim leaves their abuser.
Right now, experts say only three percent of shelters are able to take in pets. One of them is Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) in Dane County, through a partnership with an organization called Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV).
SAAV co-founder Megan Senatori tells 27 News studies show 82 percent of victims report their abuser has threatened or hurt their pets, which can be a big barrier keeping the victim in a dangerous situation.
“There’s a very real relationship between domestic violence and animal cruelty and batterers are unfortunately using pets as a tool of power and control,” she said.
Senatori says the PAWS Act is a way to take that power away from abusers and raise awareness of the risks for victims.
SAAV has helped more than 350 animals in the past 15 years. Volunteers foster the pets while the victim stays at a local shelter.
Nearly half of all domestic violence victims stay with their abuser because they don’t feel they have anywhere to safely take their animals if they go to a shelter, according to Senatori.
“[PAWS] really acknowledges something that anyone who has a pet in their household already knows, which is that animals are members of our family, and so this legislation recognizes that for domestic abuse victims who have animals as part of their family, they have a unique barrier to safety,” she said.
Wisconsin is one of more than 30 states with local protections for pets as part of a law passed in 2016. But SAAV is the only organization of its kind in the state, so advocates say more work needs to be done.
Senatori hopes the new federal law will support more groups that can help stop the cycle of abuse.
If you or someone you know is a victim of violence, DAIS provides 24-hour help in Dane County. The help line is (608) 251-4445.
Click here for more information on SAAV.
You can also find help statewide, by visiting End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin’s website.