Humans aren’t the only ones affected by domestic violence. Domestic violence often extends to family pets as well. Prior to 2006, there really no provision for pets in a domestic violence situation under the terms of a restraining order. This is a significant advancement in the fight to protect pets from harm in addition to their pet parents. It is significant because, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered personal property, not companions that need to be protected. That doesn’t mean that the law is uncaring, just that it hasn’t been updated.
Pawns in a Dangerous Game
Statistics show that abusive partners in a domestic violence situation where there are pets in the home use the family pets as leverage against the abused partner. Abusers threaten to hurt or kill pets if the abused person leaves. Pets then become a pawn in a sick and twisted game to control, punish, and intimidate the victims.
The statistics relating to this situation are staggering. According to the ASPCA, half of all domestic violence survivors report that they delayed leaving because they feared for their pet’s safety. One study reported that 87% of batterer-perpetrated incidents of pet abuse were committed in the presence of their partners for the purpose of revenge or control.
The amount and type of violence used against pets is shocking in its severity. In domestic abuse cases where family pets are also abused, the type of abuse extends to punching, hitting, choking, drowning, shooting, stabbing, or throwing the pet against a wall or down the steps.
Charting a Course to Safety for All
In 2006, Maine became the first state to pass legislation specifically allowing pets to be included in restraining orders. The law was just to clarify the ability for judges to name household pets as protected under a restraining order. Since then, a majority of states have passed similar legislation, allowing pets, at the least, to be removed from the family home for their safety, just as it does for children, and also provides for assistance, if needed, from law enforcement officials to retrieve and remove the pet or pets. Even in states without this law, judges can still order a pet’s removal under a temporary restraining order. Other measures to protect animals in these cases include a bid by the ASPCA to have the abuse of, or threatened abuse of, a family pet considered part of criminal stalking.
Since oftentimes battered women will stay in the home to protect the welfare of a pet, combined with the difficulty of finding pet-friendly housing or foster care for family pets, programs like Safe Haven work in tandem with domestic violence prevention programs to provide foster care for family pets in cases of a shelter that does not accept pets. Safe Haven brings together resources, such as animal shelters, vets, and rescue groups to provide solutions to the problem of violence against pets. In addition to these programs, some women’s shelters are adding kennel facilities to allow women to get themselves and their pets to safety.
The issue of domestic violence is huge and impacts families every day. Every day there are women trying to get themselves, their children, and pets to a safe place and including pets in restraining orders is helping that effort in a big way.