In California, you may soon be able to get a protective order for your pet. A new bill would allow a petitioner to include a pet when requesting the order, fueled by research that batters often threaten or attack pets to control a victim of domestic violence. While I don’t expect this bill to become law or catch on in other states, this is evidence that state legislatures are giving victims of domestic violence more rights and options to protect themselves.
Seizing on research that links animal abuse to domestic violence, a California lawmaker wants to offer pets protection from family batterers.
Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl has introduced legislation that would authorize a judge to add pets to protective orders typically sought by battered women. Under Senate Bill 353, a court could grant custody of a pet or livestock to the petitioner while ordering the respondent to stay away from the animal.
"As an aspect of control over their victim, a batterer will often threaten to hurt or kill their pet," Kuehl said. "All this bill does is say, as part of a protective order, the court has the ability to include the animal."
In a Utah State University survey of battered women living in five shelters, 54 percent said their partner had injured or killed their pet. Eighteen percent of the women said their abusers had threatened their animals. Others said they delayed leaving an abusive situation out of fear that their batterer would hurt their dogs or cats.
Just last week, police in Georgia arrested Atlanta Falcons lineman Jonathan Babineaux on suspicion of killing his girlfriend’s pit bull mix after the two had argued, according to news reports.
Although an abuser can be charged with animal cruelty, "sometimes it’s really hard to get victims to report to the police that someone hurt their dog," Kuehl said. Including pets on a protective order would give victims another, possibly safer option for handling an abusive situation, she said.
Maine became the first state in the nation last year to allow pets to be included in protective orders. Vermont and New York quickly followed suit.
In California, violators can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Kuehl’s bill would direct the Judicial Council to add pets to protective order forms by 2009.