WASHINGTON – The federal stalking law is getting an update to include threats made against a person’s pets or emotional support animals.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., managed to get his proposal — which adds threats and violence against a person’s pets to the stalking statute —included in this year’s Farm Bill, which has passed both chambers of Congress and is headed to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Under the law, threatening or harming a pet as a way to harass or intimidate a victim is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Peters has made the proposal before, noting that it’s not just a matter of protecting the pets themselves: Experts say that victims of abuse often remain in a threatening situation because they fear what could happen to their pets.

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to decide between leaving an abusive relationship or staying and risking their safety to protect their pets,” said Peters, who introduced the measure with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is also the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee and was a key player in getting this year's Farm Bill passed. The five-year bill includes more than $400 billion in agriculture subsidies, food aid and other programs, reauthorizing crop insurance and other programs — but doesn't include tougher work requirements for food stamp recipients, which House Republicans had called for.

The measure also authorizes spending $3 million a year for the next five years to help shelters for victims of domestic violence that include facilities for pets. According to Peters, many studies have shown that domestic abusers often try to intimidate their victims by threatening pets but that only 3 percent of shelters across the U.S. accept pets.

After a study in Wisconsin, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found that more than two-thirds of domestic violence survivors said their abusers had also been violent toward their pets or service animals. Meanwhile, Peters cited other studies saying as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors returned to abusive partners out of concern for their pets.

“With a critical lack of resources available for victims of domestic violence and their companion animals, too often victims must choose between finding safety for themselves and the safety of their pet,”’ said Nancy Blaney, director of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute. which lobbies for animal protections. "(This bill) significantly increases the ability of programs to provide shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims and their pets."

Added Peters: “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.”

Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.

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