The new federal farm bill President Trump is expected to sign into law Thursday features a provision that protects pets as part of a larger domestic violence initiative.
Surrounded by their beloved dogs and rescue pets, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark and advocates at the MSPCA, Voices Against Violence, and REACH spoke about the measure, called the PAWS Act, Tuesday in Waltham. The bill, first introduced in 2014, is being heralded as a rare bipartisan success among the divided Congress as a solution to fight to end domestic violence.
“At the heart of the PAWS Act is a simple concept – everyone deserves a safe place to call home,” said Clark, who sponsored a similar state law in 2012. “Unfortunately, this is not everyone’s reality. An estimated one-third of domestic violence survivors report staying in an abusive relationship out of concern for the well-being of their pet.”
Seven years ago, Stephanie Deeley’s sister, Kimberly Boleza-Parker, was trapped in her house, held against her will by her husband, a now retired Boston fire lieutenant who threatened to kill her as he threw knives at her, Deeley says.
The only thing that stood between Boleza-Parker, the sharp knives and her husband’s anger was her golden retriever, Bruschi, who stood in a protective stance to defend the then-45-year-old woman.
“Kim’s husband threatened to kill both of her dogs if she tried to get out of the house,” said Deeley, 63, of Framingham. “She would not leave without them.”
By then it was too late. Boleza-Parker was found dead in March 2013 – 15 months after the knife assault. Her husband is now serving a 4- to- 6-year sentence for that incident, but her death remains an open investigation, Deeley told the Herald.
“She was found dead on her front lawn. Both Bruschi and Brady (her two pet golden retrievers) were lying there with her protecting her from the cold and licking her face to try to wake her up,” Deeley said.
Boleza-Parker’s tragic story is just one of many horrific incidents that domestic violence and animal advocates are trying to prevent from happening again by passing the federal PAWS Act.
The bill would expand federal domestic violence protections, including prohibiting abusers from threatening to injure a victim’s pet, and extends federal protection for state-issued pet protection orders. It would also establish a new $3 million annual grant program to help shelters accommodate animals or find safe places for pets. It would also require abusers to pay for the medical expenses of abused pets.
The measure comes amid a need for victims to escape with their pets. As many as 25 percent of victims reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pets, advocates said. Nationwide, there are only 73 domestic violence shelters that can accommodate animals. And while Massachusetts already has a similar law in place, there is not enough funding to get existing shelters equipped to accommodate pets, Clark said.
“Research has shown that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent acts against people,” said Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy at the MSPCA. “We also know from numerous studies that people won’t leave a violent situation because of their pet.”
“Threatening violence against a loved one is one of the most powerful tools they have,” said Laura Van Zandt of REACH, a Waltham-based domestic violence agency. “People often ask why does someone stay in an abusive relationship. The pet and the threats to the pet are one of those reasons. The link is very real. The use of violence against a pet can indicate the willingness to use violence against a human.”