Bill aims to protect abuse survivors’ pets

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published February 11, 2019

 Premier Pet Supply owner Mike Palmer, left, joins HAVEN advocate and domestic abuse survivor Dr. Tracy Thompson; HAVEN President and CEO Aimee Nimeh; and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, for an event at HAVEN’s pet center last week.

Premier Pet Supply owner Mike Palmer, left, joins HAVEN advocate and domestic abuse survivor Dr. Tracy Thompson; HAVEN President and CEO Aimee Nimeh; and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, for an event at HAVEN’s pet center last week.

Photo provided by Monica Cheick, of PublicCity Public Relations

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Mike Palmer, the owner of Premier Pet Supply stores around metro Detroit, knows everything there is to know about pets. It’s his business.

Well, there’s one thing he didn’t know until recently.

“It was eye-opening,” he said after visiting the Farber Family Pet Center last week. “These individuals not having the opportunity to leave domestic violence situations because they can’t take take their animal with them, or staying because they have no place for that animal to go.”

The statistics are overwhelming: 71 percent of women with pets who were escaping domestic violence situations reported that their batterer had injured, maimed or killed their family pet, or had used the animal for revenge or to threaten victims, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. More than half of those victims said they delayed seeking help for fear of leaving their pet with their abuser.

The problem is one that HAVEN of Oakland County has known about for years and has worked to address on its own campus by building the Farber Family Pet Center in 2017, where domestic and sexual abuse survivors can bring their pets while they find refuge at HAVEN’s shelter. The center comes equipped with food, comfortable housing, a play space and security to protect outsiders from seeing what animals are inside, thus potentially giving away a survivor’s location.

That’s why the nonprofit was happy to host U.S. Sen. Gary Peters last week, along with Palmer; donor and advocate Jennifer Farber, of the Farber Family Foundation; and representatives from the Michigan Humane Society to discuss Peters’ bill to keep pets and their families alike safe while escaping dangerous homes.

The Pet and Women Safety Act, or PAWS, is part of a larger bipartisan bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

A press release from Peters describes the bill as funding for facilities that harbor survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence with their pets. Palmer said the amount allocated to PAWS would be about $3 million. The funding will be distributed in grants to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors with pets.

Legislation is working its way through the House, but hasn’t yet been passed, to make animal cruelty a federal crime. If that bill — the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or PACT — passes, convicted offenders could face up to seven years in prison.

“The senator touched upon the fact during our meeting that $3 million for the next five years spread out across the country isn’t much. But he sees this as a start,” Palmer said.

“We are grateful to Sen. Peters for his leadership on the PAWS Act, which ensures that survivors of domestic violence can rest assured that they, along with their beloved pets, will be protected and they will not have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pets,” Aimee Nimeh, the president and CEO of HAVEN, said in an email.

Along with grant funding, the bill expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a survivor’s pet, and requires that the full amount of the survivor’s losses be returned in restitution, including costs incurred for veterinary services or the physical care of the pet.

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to decide between leaving an abusive relationship or staying and risking their safety to protect their pets,” Peters said in a press release. “This bill will help ensure more safe havens for survivors and their pets are available — so together they can begin a new chapter in their lives.”

Palmer said after the meeting that while he might not have an office in Washington, D.C., he plans to do whatever he can to help fight this largely unknown issue. And for him, that means chatting up friends.

“Only 3 percent of (abuse shelters nationally) provide safe haven for women’s animals that they take with them. So whatever the government provides is not going to be enough,” he said, noting that he often consults on pet-centric businesses around the country. “But there could be opportunities with existing facilities where they could partner with women’s shelters. Maybe a (pet) day care or facility could donate their time or space to help these (survivors). Obviously, that wouldn’t be right on campus like HAVEN’s pet center, but it would be something.”

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