By Gerri Elder
Victims of domestic abuse often report that their abusers threaten to harm or kill their pets as a way to further hurt the victim. There are also tragic cases in which abusers actually follow through with their threats and terrorize both the beloved pets and their owners.
Animal rights activists say that during nasty breakups and divorce battles, pets need consideration and in some cases protection as well.
In Wisconsin, a bill has just passed the state Senate that will give animals the same protection as their owners under a restraining order. Animal rights activists have been pushing the bill and urging lawmakers to consider the well-being of pets in domestic abuse restraining orders.
WEAU News reports that domestic abuse counselors often see cases in which domestic abuse is coupled with animal abuse. Animal shelter workers also report that many of the animal abuse cases that they see are related to domestic abuse.
The bill will improve a victim's chances of obtaining a restraining order against an abuser when there is also evidence of animal abuse. While the law will not protect animals in a different way than it protects humans, there is some comfort to victims in the fact that pets will be included and receive the same protection as they do under a restraining order.
The bill is now headed to the General Assembly in Wisconsin and then to the governor's desk for his signature.
Last year California enacted similar legislation to protect pets from becoming victims of domestic abuse. California Senate Bill 353 was signed into law on September 11, 2007, and allows judges in divorce and domestic abuse cases to include pets when an order of protection is issued. The legislation acknowledged the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse and stated the abusers often use animals to intimidate, harass or silence their human victims.
While the California bill was being researched, a survey of households with pets that also had substantiated child abuse and neglect found that in 88 percent of homes where there was physical child abuse, the animals were also being abused. During a study of the 50 largest battered women's shelters in the United States, it was documented that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering the shelters admitted that there had been incidents of pet abuse within the family.
With California and Wisconsin leading the way, we can only hope that more states take action to introduce legislation and enact laws to protect family pets from abuse. By protecting the pets, victims of abuse are also further protected as it takes a potential weapon away from the abuser.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, pet custody legislation has also been introduced to help decide who gets to keep the pets when a couple decides to divorce.