PAWS Act supports domestic violence survivors, pets

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WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., visited the Humane Society of West Michigan in Walker Friday, calling for funding to be reauthorized for the Pet and Women Safety Act.

The bipartisan PAWS Act was originally passed in 2018 and gives funding to organizations that help house domestic violence survivors and their pets.

“If you’re the victim of domestic violence and you’re seeking to leave that relationship and go to a shelter, you oftentimes do not want to leave if you have an animal left back at the house. In fact, we find that abusers will use that pet as a weapon against the woman, will harm that pet, threaten that pet,” Peters said. “Right now, we’re looking to fund this program for the next five years with about $3 million that can be used by shelters across the country.”

Tania Jaczkowski, the executive director of the Humane Society of West Michigan, says it is a problem they see often.

“I would say on average, we’re seeing upwards of 20 calls a week this program,” Jaczkowski said. “And I would say the majority of them — obviously, we see some that are due to unhoused individuals, but I would say a lot of them we’re hearing of domestic violence survivors.”

  • The Humane Society of West Michigan on Jan. 26, 2024.
    The Humane Society of West Michigan on Jan. 26, 2024.
  • The Humane Society of West Michigan on Jan. 26, 2024.
    The Humane Society of West Michigan on Jan. 26, 2024.

The YWCA of West Central Michigan sees how programs like this can really help survivors, according to CEO Charisse Mitchell.

“Having a safe place for a pet while they’re staying in shelter for 40 days. Emergency veterinarian services for pets that have been abused as a part of that relationship,” Mitchell said. “The pets program allows that to happen. The PAWS Act makes it possible for these types of partnership to flourish.”

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says he has seen cases in which animals were killed in a domestic abuse situation, which often leads to additional felony charges in a case.

“A pet is just like a child to many individuals. And so when you’re exerting some sort of control over that pet, in essence, you’re exerting control over your domestic partner,” Becker said. “And that’s where we generally see it, and it goes to extreme levels in most cases that we get involved.”

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