Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Pets
By Robert Forto, PhD
On April 12, 2010, Colorado Governor, Bill Ritter (D) signed into law a measure that will provide animals and pets protection from predators of domestic violence.
The measure will allow Colorado judges to order suspected domestic abusers in the state to stay away from family pets and livestock. Many states allow judges the discretion of including the family pet in a protection order but with the signing of this law it will require the judge to do so.
Ritter says domestic abuse can harm or threaten to harm pets to intimidate their victims. Advocates say some victims of domestic abuse or domestic violence are afraid to leave abusive homes out of fear for the animals that they may have to leave behind.
One way to further traumatize the human target of domestic violence is to injure or kill that person’s beloved pet. When domestic violence erupts, family pets are often the first target because abusers understand and exploit the deep bond between pets and family members. Threatening a pet often causes the victim to stay out of fear of what might happen to them if they leave. Studies have shown that almost half of battered women delay their escape for this reason. In some cities they have created Animal Safe houses in which foster owners and/or shelters take care of the pets empowering the victim of domestic violence to leave. In Denver, The Denver Dumb Friends League offers temporary assistance for victims of domestic violence and housing of their pets.
According to Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, “The bond between people and their pets is so powerful that people would rather stay in an abusive situation if it means protecting their animal. A pet is sometimes the only positive and unconditional relationship that a victim might have and that means they will do absolutely anything to keep them safe. We want the law to recognize the deep significance of that relationship and acknowledge that for most people, a pet is part of the family and therefore a victim–and a pawn–in the horrendous cycle of domestic violence.”
Up until the signing of the measure by Governor Ritter in Colorado only four states–Maine, Minnesota, New York and Vermont–have enacted laws permitting family pets to be included in protective orders involving cases of domestic violence and abuse. An additional 11 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and the District of Columbia have considered “pet protection” legislation.
Such measures will provide much needed protection for victims of domestic violence and abuse and protect their pets as well. Pet protection orders will offer victims of abuse an alternative to staying in abusive relationships for fear of what may happen to their pets if they leave.
- Seven of every 10 families with minor children include a pet — more than 64 million households in total.
- Research shows that pet abuse is a predictor of domestic violence. Paying attention to pet abuse can save human lives.
- Studies show that up to 71% of battered women report their pet was threatened, harmed, or killed by their partners.
- A national survey found that 85% of women’s shelters indicated that women seeking safety described incidents of pet abuse in their families.
- Batterers threaten, abuse, or kill animals to demonstrate and confirm power and control over the family, to isolate the victim and children, and to prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her/him to return.
- Domestic violence shelters and animal protection organizations have begun partnering to develop “safe havens” for pets of domestic violence victims because many victims delay leaving out of fear for their pets’ safety. All too often, batterers punish victims for leaving by killing their pet. Yet, with the help of over 100 safe haven programs currently operating today in the U.S., many victims no longer have to choose between their safety and their pets.
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Citation: HSUS website