A small portion of the $867 billion farm bill President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 21 included an act that has nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with keeping domestic abuse survivors and their pets safe.

The Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act protects "victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by acts of violence or threats of violence against their pets" by establishing a federal grant to help cover the costs of pets at shelters or other housing options and prohibits abusers from threatening pets.

"Sadly, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives," U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and the bill's primary sponsor said in a February 2017 statement. "Pets often become a member of the family, and the idea of leaving a beloved pet behind in a dangerous situation is unthinkable. By ensuring that people experiencing domestic abuse don't have to make the decision between finding safety for themselves or staying behind to protect their pet, we can empower survivors to seek help."

What the PAWS Act does

The PAWS Act gives domestic abuse survivors and their pets several new protections under federal law.

First, it expands the federal criminal code definition of stalking to "include conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet." This expansion of the definition makes it a crime to threaten someone's pet in a domestic violence situation. Included in this expanded definition are interstate protections for animals. Basically, if someone should cross state lines with the intent of harming a pet covered under a protection order, they face an additional criminal penalty of prison time, a fine or both.

Second, the person who commits domestic violence against a pet, or violates the interstate protection orders, must cover the cost of any veterinary care the animal received as a result of violence.

Third, the bill directs the Department of Agriculture to supply grants to help survivors and their animals either cover the cost of a shelter that accepts pets or the cost associated with emergency or short-term boarding. The budget for these grants is $3 million a year from the fiscal years 2017 to 2021.

Finally, while the law is a federal one and this applicable in all states, the law does encourage states to include threats of violence or violence committed against pets in their protection orders.

Why protecting animals matters

A woman wearing a scarf holds a fluffy cat close to her Furry friends now have federal protections from domestic abusers. (Photo: Elantseva Marina/Shutterstock

According to Clark's 2017 statement, 33 percent of domestic abuse survivors delayed leaving the situation due to concerns about finding their pets adequate care. They don't wish to leave the pet in an abusive situation, especially if the pet has been used in the past, either as a target for violence or as a source of manipulation to make the person stay. This concern is compounded by the fact that many domestic abuse shelters do not accept pets, though some do have programs in place to board the pets elsewhere.

"No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet," Clark said, based on reporting from The Cut. "This law empowers survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet. I'm grateful for the partnerships we've formed between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we will help save lives."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.

PAWS Act pulls pets of domestic violence victims into the safety net
Incorporated into the latest farm bill, the PAWS Act helps survivors of domestic abuse and their pets find safe spaces with the aid of federal money.