Domestic violence is an issue that people sometimes wish they could sweep under the rug. In fact, lawmakers in Topeka, Kansas, recently repealed the ban against domestic violence in an effort to save time and money. Massachusetts State Senator Katherine Clark sees things a bit differently. Not only has she been fighting for stronger laws to help battered women and children, but her most recent battle is to make sure that family pets are included in restraining orders against abusive spouses.
In most states, pets are seen as property and therefore not legally protected by restraining orders. According the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2011 report, Massachusetts ranks as one of the “Top Tier” states with regards to animal rights legislation. In spite of this fact, Sen. Clark, proud guardian of a rescue dog herself, believes that this is one area that the state is sorely lacking. She has introduced and supported Senate Bill 682—An Act Relative to Domestic Violence and Animals—to the Massachusetts Congress on numerous occasions, but has yet to see the legislation pass. “This bill is actually a very simple and common approach,” explains Sen. Clark. “It would allow pets to be included in the restraining order and protect them from being threatened or abused or disposed of.”
Sen. Clark says that nearly half of all battered women fear leaving an abusive situation because they are afraid of what will happen to their beloved and loyal four-legged friend. “I was a former prosecutor, and I worked for many years on improving safety issues for women and children. But I am also an animal lover—so I know they need protection too.”
Sen. Cark understands the connection between people who abuse animals and those that abuse people. “People that hurt animals are 50 times more likely to hurt a person,” she reports. Fortunately, Sen. Clark’s bill has been getting some tremendous support. She has had help from the ASPCA and the HSUS as well as two 12-year-old girls who are drumming up support for the bill as part of their community service for their Bat Mitzvahs. However, the most effective speakers have been those who have firsthand experience of the dangers of domestic violence and animal abuse. “We have had some very courageous women step forward and share their really sad and horrifying situations that they went through,” says Sen. Clark.
Horrifying is not a strong enough word. Sen. Clark spoke of a woman whose husband put the body of her decapitated dog in her bed as a warning. “He wanted her to know what would happen if she ever thought about leaving again,” Clark says. Other women have told gruesome stories, including one who saw her dog be thrown from a third story window. But these women insist they are strong survivors. Sen. Clark knows the unconditional love you get from a pet is something that needs to be protected. “These women just cannot bear to leave their pets and it will be so much better when we have a law on the books that judges can look at and really enforce,” says Sen. Clark.
“Pets can very easily become tools of manipulation in an abusive relationship, because domestic violence is all about power,” says Sen. Clark. “We need to make sure that we help these women and children by helping these animals.” The best way to support the bill is to contact your local representative and write a letter of support. Go to TailsInc.com/Campaigns to support this and other animal-friendly campaigns.
For more information you can visit the Animal Protection & Legislation section at MSPCA.org.