New Legislation Would Expand Domestic Violence Laws to Include Pets

It looks like both Washington and Iowa are considering legislation that would include family pets under domestic violence protections.  In Washington, the legislation would allow courts to issue restraining orders against abusers that include pets as well as the abused party; and in Iowa, the legislation would not only allow restraining orders to be issued, but would also allow a court to issue an order giving the abused party full custody of the pet(s) without a restraining order.

On the surface, for the uninitiated, this may seem a bit silly, or even trivializing of domestic violence.  But indeed, it’s anything but.  These pieces of legislation aren’t just about protecting animals — who, I would argue, do indeed deserve our protection.  They’re primarily about protecting the abused human.

How?  Because it’s not at all uncommon for abusers to used beloved family pets to get to their victims. They may threaten the safety or life of the pet in order to prevent the abused person from leaving, and may actually do harm to the pet, including torturing and killing it in order to do emotional damage to the human victim.

Any of us who has a pet who they love dearly can easily relate to this.  If someone threatened my cat, who I love more than almost anything?  Yeah, that’d probably work.  And it actually does work in a lot of cases.  People, especially women, have been murdered because they couldn’t stand the thought of harm being done to their animals.

So this legislation is good news.  It has the potential to save both animal and human lives.  And if you live in either state?  You should be contacting your legislators to let them know that you support it.

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21 Responses

  1. qvd
    qvd February 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm |

    I read an interview once with an animal control officer who helped raid dogfighting rings.

    He said that in his many years of experience, where there was serious animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse came right along with it.

    Here’s a link to an organization that helps victims of domestic violence find pet-friendly shelters and veterinary care. These things can really help victims who are being extorted through threats of harm to their pets.

    http://www.ahimsahouse.org/

  2. Laura
    Laura February 26, 2009 at 1:56 pm |

    Good laws, am saddened that one would have to qualify them in a progressive blog. Also sad that the idea of protection of domesticated pets would trivialize experiences. There is no “race” or zero-sum game for rights and protections; they don’t come at the expense of others’ rights or protections.

  3. human
    human February 26, 2009 at 2:08 pm |

    *sigh* A friend of a friend lost her birds this way. She left her husband and he put the birds outside in the cold to freeze. It still makes me so sad, and angry too.

  4. Amanda H
    Amanda H February 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm |

    This isn’t trivial at all… violence is violence – anyone can see that animal abuse is indicative of serious mental issues. This is not only the case in domestic abuse (one of those big, red flags is when a partner threatens to or harms a pet), but it’s also a indicator of serious psychotic behavior.

    Intercepting before someone gets to the point of committing a more heinous crime of human murder, rape, etc… I’m sad that it would possibly have of be at the expense of an innocent animal…but bringing this type of behavior to light could be a serious preventative measure!

  5. anon
    anon February 26, 2009 at 3:40 pm |

    While I think this is a great idea, and a recognition of how the two go hand in hand, restraining orders are so toothless most of the time (sure, you can get it, and still be murdered the next day) that I don’t know what good it actually does…perhaps just further awareness of the problem, I suppose…

  6. Superlagirl
    Superlagirl February 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm |

    “but it’s also a indicator of serious psychotic behavior.”

    No. It’s indicative of sadistic behavior or antisocial behavior. It has nothing to do with psychosis. People who experience psychosis are no more likely to be violent than the general population.

    I don’t want to derail the thread, but having experienced a couple of psychotic episodes myself, this kind of thing really gets under my skin. Carry on!

  7. miss leya
    miss leya February 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm |

    I heard the exec. director if a women’s shelter speak for class (twice). This bill is anything but silly. This is very good news. The way I understood her, the animal abuse was just one more extension of the domestic abuse.

    (graphic)

    I specifically remember a story about a husband who threw the cat against the wall and then told his wife he’d do the same thing to her if she didn’t listen to him or something…. there was also something about making sure she heard the noise the cat’s head made….

  8. libdevil
    libdevil February 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm |

    I’m wondering if his might not be better off swept into a more general law, protecting all the property of the person receiving a protective order. While pets certainly deserve protection, so do victims’ automobiles, artwork, personal computers, heirlooms, etc. Am I missing something where pets were a loophole in the law previously, but other sorts of property were already protected, or would a more general law be better?

  9. Jill
    Jill February 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm | *

    Libdevil, if you read the linked articles, it extends domestic violence restraining orders to jointly owned pets; property is already protected.

  10. preying mantis
    preying mantis February 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm |

    “While pets certainly deserve protection, so do victims’ automobiles, artwork, personal computers, heirlooms, etc. ”

    If I leave my husband and he trashes “our” car, I can generally sue him for half its value, charge him with vandalism, etc. If I leave my husband and he has “our” cat put to sleep, there are a lot of jurisdictions where I’d be completely SOL unless the cat was a purebred with an assigned cash value or I had a restraining order/custodial agreement in place preventing him from doing so.

  11. Mary
    Mary February 26, 2009 at 5:45 pm |

    I get absolutely sick thinking about my boyfriend harming, killing or torturing my cat to get even or get control. Sadly, it would probably work since I would do anything for her and I can’t stand her to have the least bit of discomfort (I’m a raving lunatic of a cat person if you can’t tell). You have to be a really sick SOB to harm an animal to abuse your SO.

  12. CartoonCoyote
    CartoonCoyote February 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm |

    Should anyone, partner or not, ever harm my cats, the domestic violence would come from MY direction. I’d probably have to be the subject of the restraining order.

    I’m a raving lunatic of a cat person if you can’t tell

    That’s two of us!

  13. Anna
    Anna February 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm |

    This is great. I don’t think animals should be put in the same category as material possessions, because it’s not the same at all. Destroying items is not okay, but a lot of enraged people that would not hurt another being will smash things in an argument (as scary and signaling as it may be). It’s not directly related. Hurting an animal is direct violence in and of itself. Any living being capable of feeling pain is not the same as a car or TV.

  14. Laurie in Mpls.
    Laurie in Mpls. February 27, 2009 at 10:15 am |

    Cartoon Coyote said:
    Should anyone, partner or not, ever harm my cats, the domestic violence would come from MY direction. I’d probably have to be the subject of the restraining order.

    Ditto. And I’m SO not a violent person that it’s not even funny. (I may RPG some violent characters, but the thought of actually hurting anyone makes me physically ill.) If anyone even tried to hurt the furry ones, though, they really would have to go through me first. And could get me seriously dead.

    I am so terribly, terribly glad this legislation is being considered.

  15. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers February 27, 2009 at 10:33 am |

    Actually, while I think this is a great idea, I don’t think it goes far enough.

    I believe it should be a felony to kill a pet animal. With exceptions for self-defense, defense of property, and vets performing euthanasia or animal control officers doing their job, of course. But killing a pet animal causes equivalent psychological harm to most humans as killing a human loved one would. Domestic abusers threaten to kill loved animals to control humans, but there are also non-domestic abusers — criminals who want you not to snitch on them, bullies, neighbors who are angry at you and don’t want the criminal charges that would go with beating you up or trashing your property — who harm animals as an attack on the humans who love those animals.

    Most pet animals are basically worthless from a monetary perspective, so one could *never* receive adequate or even punitive compensation for their destruction. I mean, if your dog was worth $300,000 and some asshole reached into your car and threw it into traffic because he was mad that you cut him off on the highway, it would not ease your pain to get $300,000 out of the guy, but at least the *next* guy who was tempted to do such a thing might think, “Shit, what if this dog is worth $300,000 like the dog that one guy killed?” But that’s not how it works, because most dogs are literally worth nothing from a financial perspective — cute puppies get given away for free or thrown away at the SPCA all the time. Ditto cats. (Non-dog and cat pets usually have *some* small financial worth, but not a lot.) So laws designed to protect property, which are based around giving you back the money needed to replace the damaged item, cannot possibly address the issue of the killing of pets, and don’t even act as a deterrent on the behavior.

    *Anyone* who kills your pet animal for a reason other than self-defense or defense of property should be charged with a felony. If your cat keeps getting out and attacking the neighbor’s songbirds, he may have a good reason for shooting your cat full of BB pellets… he’s defending his property, including the animals on it. But if your neighbor is mad that you keep parking in his parking spot so he shoots your cat… felony. With real jail time. If people can go to jail for five years for killing a pet animal, that might actually deter the crime. As it is there are literally no consequences for killing another person’s pet.

    I am not, particularly, interested in animal rights. I eat meat, I wear leather, I support animal experimentation in the sciences. But I am very interested in protecting humans. And the killing of a pet animal causes so much damage to humans that it should have severe legal consequences… not as severe as killing or harming a human, but more severe than the theft of property, I think. Actually I’d be willing to put killing a pet animal up there with physical assault on a human; beating someone up might be *less* damaging to them in the long run than killing their pet would be.

  16. Michelle the Red
    Michelle the Red February 27, 2009 at 1:13 pm |

    In law school we had a police officer give a lecture on how abusers will use domestic pets to intimidate and scare their partner. The stories were truly heinous. After that lecture I contacted several domestic violence shelters in my area and offered my home as a place to “foster” any pets that needed a home while their owner was at the shelter. Haven’t had any requests yet, but at least I tried.

    I am truly fortunate because I know my husband could never hurt me or our pets. I wish everyone had that.

  17. libdevil
    libdevil February 27, 2009 at 4:11 pm |

    Thanks Jill. I admit I’m not always as diligent as I should be about reading linked articles. I tend to use blogs like this one for news aggregation, usually with context and interpretation that I don’t elsewhere and to save time. My fault for not reading the articles.

  18. Bruce
    Bruce February 28, 2009 at 12:33 am |

    I would think that, depending on the state, violence to personal property including pets would also be covered under some protective order statutes, but it’s an excellent idea to do it across the board. Noted the tendency of abusers to inflict harm on animals also.

  19. Radfem
    Radfem February 28, 2009 at 3:52 pm |

    He said that in his many years of experience, where there was serious animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse came right along with it.

    Animal control officers in my city and county are trained to look for other forms of abuse or neglect in a household where there’s an animal welfare call because of this correlation.

  20. Crystal T
    Crystal T March 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm |

    I know I’m coming to this a bit late.

    I’m happy about this legislation. I hope it will spur other states to pass the same.

    But a bigger help for the problem would be for shelters to accept animals along with the human victims. A victim of abuse is less likely to leave her abuser if she has to leave her animal(s) behind.

    I realize it’s a tall order and pretty much unrealistic. Many shelters don’t have enough space for people. But I like what Michelle the Red did – offer her home as a foster location.

    Perhaps shelters would be more willing to form such partnerships if they had programs set up beforehand. They would probably want to draft some document for the foster parent (and victim?) to sign. They would need to work out an agreement on stuff like if the foster parents are to pay for any veterinary services. It would be best to keep track of which animal is where in some database, and a shelter staff member would need to take that on as a part of their other responsibilities.

    I wonder if any shelter is trying to or wanting to do this? Perhaps some of the groundwork has already been laid. I’m thinking an animal shelter that already has a fostering program established would be a great resource. I don’t work for a victims of domestic violence shelter, but this post has sparked my interest, so I’m going to dig into it a bit more.

  21. Jenni Griffith
    Jenni Griffith March 10, 2009 at 8:45 am |

    GEORGIA legislatures are also considering a similar law to protect pets who are victims of DV!

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