New Ohio Law Protects Pets From Domestic Violence
Fully half of all women who are victims of domestic violence put off escaping their situation out of fear for what will happen to their pets if they leave. That’s a staggering statistic. Some reports say over 70 percent of battered women report that their abuser harmed, killed or threatened their pets. Many people don’t even realize how the presence of an imperiled companion animal can affect a domestic violence situation.
Domestic abusers know full well that threatening the family dog or cat is a powerfully effective way to control and intimidate their victims. Would you leave a beloved companion animal with a person you know is heartless enough to hurt that pet out of anger or a desire for revenge?
State legislators are becoming increasingly aware that this is a problem in need of a common sense solution. Last month, Ohio became the latest state to enable its judges to include companion animals in domestic protection orders.
“Too often, victims will not flee an abusive situation if they have to leave a pet behind, unprotected,” said Vicki Deisner, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Midwest legislative director, in a press release. “No one should have to make the impossible choice between escaping an abusive situation and ensuring their pet’s safety.”
Half the Country Recognizes the Problem
Currently 27 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, allow a judge to include animals when issuing domestic protection orders. In 2014 alone, Ohio joined New Hampshire, Iowa, Virginia and South Carolina in updating its laws on this point. That’s news worth celebrating. Below is a graphic from the ASPCA showing which states have such laws in place. Note that it was created in mid-2014, before Ohio and New Hampshire passed their new laws:
The pet protection order movement began in 2006 when the first such law passed in Maine. Since then this issue has gained more and more national attention. In many states, judges already technically have the ability to add pets to a protective order, but don’t do so because this authority isn’t explicitly stated. Passing this type of clarification offers judges the assurance they sometimes need to take this important step.
A protective order that includes pets typically grants the protected spouse exclusive care and custody of the animal and forbids the abuser from taking, disposing of or harming it. In short, it lets the victim take the pet away from the abuser’s household without fear of having to return it.
“Many times in domestic situations and abuse the pet may be a target. If the perpetrator cannot access the victim then he/she will transfer the anger to a pet,” Sarah Reynolds, director of victim assistance of the Erie County Prosecutor’s Office, told the Sandusky Register.
“These changes will assist the Sheriff’s Department when serving a respondent with a protection order,” Reynolds added. “The deputy knows to find garage door openers, firearms, car/house keys, cell phone, and now a pet.”
Every State Needs a Law Like This One
What about the rest of the U.S.? It’s time for all state legislatures to introduce and pass similar bills. Not only will doing so offer a better way to protect innocent animals, it will also provide a mechanism to help abuse victims flee dangerous situations much sooner.
In an abusive situation, good-hearted people stay to try to shield their pets from abuse. They and their animals sometimes suffer and even die as a consequence. Come on, states — that’s outrageously unacceptable. Do the right thing to help the human and animal victims of violence get out sooner. Establish shelters that allow pets to accompany families needing refuge from abuse, and enact laws that let the legal system protect the entire family — pets included.
If you’re in a state that hasn’t yet passed a pet protective order law, let your state legislators know this issue is important to you. Keep the momentum going across the country. Lives depend on it.
Photo credit (all uncredited images): Thinkstock