New Bill Would Help Domestic Violence Survivors Find Shelter for Their Pets Too

On a cold Thursday morning in February 2014, Jasmin Rivera barely had a moment’s peace before her partner barged into the bedroom of their apartment in Bronx, New York. The couple needed to talk, her partner demanded.

“I’m like, ‘Oh God, please,’” Rivera told RH Reality Check during a visit to the Urban Resource Institute’s (URI) Safe Haven domestic violence shelter in New York City, where she’s lived since last April. “I was so tired. It was the end of the week.”

Her former partner had verbally, mentally, and emotionally abused Rivera, a cultural studies professor at Hostos Community College, since they started dating in the 1990s. But the abuse intensified during the last few months of their relationship, after Rivera’s partner began an affair with another woman. And that Thursday morning, what started as a verbal fight escalated to physical violence when Rivera refused to argue back. That assault, says Rivera, seemed to be the the worst of what she’d gone through so far. Although Rivera had left to stay with her mother many times prior, on that day, she says, she knew she needed to leave for good.

As she packed her things through the tears and shaken nerves, Rivera wondered about her two Shih Tzus, Tony and Teresa, for whom she had cared since they were six-month-old pups.

“I looked down and I see them, and they’re shaking,” Rivera told RH Reality Check. “At that moment, I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m putting my dogs through this.’”

Rivera had realized a week earlier, during a different argument, that her then partner could potentially harm her two dogs. Seeing them tremble in fear that day compelled her to leave more quickly, she says, and to take them with her to find safe housing.

A federal bill reintroduced in March by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) would help make more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters a possibility for people like Rivera, who fear that their dogs, cats, or other animals will be harmed by their abusive partners.

HR 1258, known as the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, would create a grant program to help agencies working with survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking to develop housing programs that accommodate survivors and their pets.

Read more of my article for RH Reality Check here.

Read Slate’s write-up of my article here.