KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Helping victims of domestic abuse find safety, shelter and hope is the ongoing mission of dozens of shelters around West Michigan.
At one such facility on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, talked about new bipartisan legislation to help address a problem associated with abuse that many have probably never even considered.
Pets and Women Safety Act, or PAWS, is what Peters calls his bill that would help victims of abuse who want to leave their unhealthy and unhappy circumstance but stay, in some cases, for a very particular reason.
“It’s wide-ranging understanding that we have to deal with domestic abuse and we have to deal with what is a significant impediment to getting to a safe place and that is dealing with someone’s loved pet,” Peters said.
His new legislation will help encourage shelters for domestic abuse victims to either have or partner with agencies that have a program that will take the victim’s pet while they try to get out of the abusive situation.
According to law enforcement sources, in Kalamazoo County nearly 60 percent of all violent crimes in the last two years had some component of domestic abuse.
The YWCA that hosted the event serves as many as 800 adult victims and up to 400 children every year.
But Peters says even more people could be helped if the fear of harm or worse coming to their pet being left behind could be eliminated. He says the problem is real.
“Quite an important and surprising statistic is that we find folks who are in abusive relationships may stay on average up to two and half more years in that abusive relationship if they have a pet because their fearful for the safety of that pet,” Peters said.
The YWCA in Kalamazoo partners with My Sister’s House, a Southwest Michigan SPCA program that provides just such a service. Officials say it could impact as many as one in 10 domestic abuse victims.
My Sister’s House works with abuse victims in Kalamazoo County, but Peters says that only about three percent of shelters nationwide have such services available — a circumstance he hopes his bill will address.