LANGHORNE, PA.- Today, April 21st, 2020, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Vern Buchanan (FL-16), and Katie Porter (CA-45) led a bipartisan group of 78 lawmakers urging House leadership to include additional emergency funding in the next COVID-19 relief package to support accommodation services for survivors of domestic violence and their companion animals. The request comes as law enforcement in communities across the country are reporting a surge in acts of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.     

“With people across our nation complying with stay-at-home orders, law enforcement has unfortunately seen an increase in the number of domestic violence calls they are receiving,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “We must address this situation immediately and support funding for safe housing for domestic violence victims, their children, and their pets. Everyone deserves to feel safe and to be safe, and this funding is an important step toward that goal.”                                                 

“The prolonged period of isolation necessary to control the spread of coronavirus has led to dramatic increases in domestic violence, and those affected need our immediate help,” said Congresswoman Clark. “Most transitional housing services and shelters are currently unable to accommodate survivors with their pets, and as a result, many stay in dangerous situations to protect their pet family members. We urgently need this targeted, emergency assistance to keep both survivors and their pets safe.”

“The impact of the coronavirus has caused significant hardships for Americans across the country and has tragically led to a surge in domestic violence cases,” said Congressman Buchanan. “Additional funding for domestic violence shelters and housing assistance will help keep thousands of victims safe from being trapped with their abuser. We need to act swiftly and get this support to those who desperately need it.”  

“The troubling increase in reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights how we need to do more to empower survivors,” said Congresswoman Porter. “Forcing people to choose between staying with an abuser or caring for their family—pets included—is just plain wrong. I’m proud to help lead this strong bipartisan effort to that would better protect survivors.” 

This letter is also endorsed by the following organizations: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; Animal Legal Defense Fund; Animal Welfare Institute; Animal Wellness Action; Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; Humane Society Legislative Fund; Humane Society of the United States; National Animal Care and Control Association; Urban Resource Institute.

On April 6, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on governments around the world to make addressing the issue of domestic violence a key component of their response to the pandemic, citing a significant uptick in domestic violence reporting by law enforcement amid global lockdowns. With more than 96% of Americans living under stay-at-home orders, police in several cities across the country reported doubt-digit increases in domestic-violence related calls in throughout the month of March compared to 2019 or earlier months in 2020.

The ASPCA reported that a study in Wisconsin found 68 percent of domestic violence survivors reported their abusers were also violent towards their animals. A similar study found that as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. A separate 2007 study found that as many as one-third of domestic abuse survivors reported they delayed leaving an abuser out of concern for the safety of their pet. Despite the prevalence of this problem, roughly three percent of all domestic violence shelters in the United States are capable of accommodating companion animals.

In December 2018, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was enacted to protect domestic violence victims and their pets by strengthening federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet. The PAWS Act also provides grant funding to shelters and transitional housing services that offer assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The additional $4 million requested by the lawmakers would fund the Department of Justice’s Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grant program to help affected survivors and their companion animals during the pandemic.  

Full text of the letter here and below: 

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy,

We write today to urge you to provide additional funding to support shelter and transitional housing services for survivors of domestic violence as you work to develop a CARES 2.0 package. Specifically, we request that you include an additional $4 million for the Department of Justice Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grant program authorized by Section 12502 of PL 115-334.

While we appreciate that the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included an additional $45 million for the Family Violence Prevention and Services (FVPSA) program, we are concerned that more targeted funding will be required to meet the needs of victims and survivors with pets during the COVID-19 crisis. Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically across the country in recent weeks as stay-at-home orders subject many victims of family abuse to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser. We also know that COVID-19 related job loss and additional child care burdens from abrupt school and day care closures have increased the likelihood of domestic violence incidents.

Research has shown that the challenge of leaving an abusive relationship is compounded by the presence of a family pet. Approximately 50 percent of domestic violence survivors cite the fear of leaving their pets behind with their abuser as a reason for why they remain in abusive situations. Yet despite the prevalence of this problem, most shelters in the United States do not admit companion animals, and this lack of capacity often forces victims to remain in abusive situations out of fear of leaving their companion animals behind.

Recognizing the importance of addressing this problem, Congress incorporated the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act into the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate survivors with pets. While the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime is currently working to get FY20 funding into the hands of shelters, we remain concerned that the $2 million provided in FY20 will be insufficient to meet the growing need for these services. That is why we urge you to include no less than $4 million in additional investment for these Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grants as we look to the next phase in our efforts to support vulnerable populations during this crisis.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to provide for the immediate, increased needs of domestic violence survivors in CARES 2.0.