As a lifelong animal lover and domestic violence survivor, it breaks my heart when I get a telephone call from our local women's shelter WISE. Often the shelter advocate on the telephone has just witnessed a woman drive up to the shelter with a dog or cat in her car. Far too often, she’s come to WISE as a last resort; if they can’t help her find a safe place for her beloved pet, she’ll return to her abuser because she doesn’t want to leave her companion in their dangerous hands. That's when the shelter advocate contacts me at the Riley MacKenzie Fund.
The facts are, up to 40% of domestic violence survivors report that they’ve returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. Sadly, only 3% of domestic violence shelters have the resources to accommodate animals.
That’s why this petition has been started asking Congress to pass the PAWS Act, which would expand federal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims and set up a federal grant program to help acquire safe shelter for their pets.
I left an abusive marriage over twenty five years ago. Thankfully my ex-husband never threatened MacKenzie, my faithful Scottish Terrier, but I discovered from my work on the board of a local domestic violence shelter that many fellow survivors aren’t so lucky. I now know that threatening, maiming, or killing a pet is one of the most common ways an abuser keeps their victim from leaving.
In 2009, I founded the Riley MacKenzie Fund that helps stray and abandoned animals and works to spay and neuter animals, but also in part helps survivors of domestic violence find a safe place for their four-legged companions while they get out of harm’s way. The Riley MacKenzie Fund relies solely on donations to pay for pets to be rehomed or in some cases to be boarded at a local veterinarian’s office while their owners focus on getting back on their feet. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the joyful reunion between a woman and her cherished pet; many domestic violence victims say getting their dog or cat back is the first step toward rebuilding their life.
Unfortunately, we are a small organization and we can only pay the boarding fees for a limited amount of time. One of the hardest parts of our work is telling survivors we’re going to have to help them put their pet up for adoption because we can’t afford to board them any longer.
The PAWS Act, which is a bipartisan piece of legislation, could change that by establishing a fund that would allow organizations like us to help more survivors and their pets. Will you sign the petition asking Congress to pass it?
I’m confident that with enough support, we can convince our legislators in Washington to do the right thing. With your help, we can make sure that no domestic violence survivor ever has to choose between her pet and her safety ever again.