Can you imagine choosing between your safety and your pets – or the safety of your pets? Sadly, victims of domestic violence are often faced with these heartbreaking decisions. Most shelters for human victims of domestic violence do not accept animals, so people must leave their pets to enter the shelter. Often, victims instead choose to stay in a violent home to try to protect their pets.
The link between animal cruelty and human violence is well documented in both study statistics and stories of abuse. Abusers know that they can control their human victims by threatening to harm the family pets, or by harming them and threatening worse injury to the animals and to the people who are trying to protect them. This manipulative behavior is far too common and it works quite well to demonstrate the abuser’s power and control, to retaliate against victims for acts of independence, to keep a victim silent and to coerce a victim to return.
Fear for the welfare of a household pet often prevents victims from escaping abusive relationships. One study found that up to 48% of battered women will not leave, or will return to a violent relationship due to fear of what might happen to the animal if left behind.
The heartbreaking stories behind the statistics are unimaginable – animals killed while children watch, a puppy thrown off an apartment balcony, pets set on fire – things that any compassionate person just cannot begin to comprehend.
There is legislation pending in Massachusetts that would improve this situation by extending orders of protection to companion animals. Senate Bill 682 would specifically allow judges to include pets in temporary restraining orders. If a judge finds reason to include a companion animal in the order of protection, the petitioner can be given exclusive custody, care and control over the animal and/or the abuser can be ordered to stay away from and be prohibited from abusive behavior toward the pet, which would trigger a violation of the restraining order.
Supporters of this legislation include many domestic violence and animal protection organizations that are working to help people and their pets including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Safe People Safe Pets, Human/Animal Violence Education Network, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, Dove, Inc., Renewal House Our Sister’s Place, Fall River, Womanshelter/Companeras, YWCA of Western Massachusetts, American Humane Association, and The Humane Society of the United States
This is not a new idea – seventeen states (and the District of Columbia) have laws to include pets in domestic violence orders: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. Massachusetts should follow suit and help to protect people and their pets.
For more information on what you can do to help pass this legislation, which has a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee on October 5th, contact the MSPCA’s Advocacy Department at firstname.lastname@example.org and see our website at www.mspca.org/petsandviolence.
Article submitted by Linda Huebner, Deputy Director, Advocacy and Kara Holmquist, Director, Advocacy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA)