Legislatures are beginning to identify the need for laws to protect animals that are exposed to domestic violence situations. Currently, victims in most states do not have the power under the law to protect their pets from their abusers or access to a shelter that is pet-friendly. Pets have no voice under the law or escape route from the violence that is inflicted upon them and, therefore, several states have initiated legislation to include pets and even farm animals in protective orders.
When one begins to explore the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, the evidence of a connection is obvious. In 1997, a study of the largest women’s shelters across 48 states revealed that workers at eighty-five percent of those shelters had heard or been informed of incidents of animal abuse in the home. This is evidence that an abuser abusing his victim’s pets is more than a mere coincidence or several isolated instance throughout the country.
Over the years, domestic violence groups have pieced together the overwhelming evidence that has connected abusers of women and children to the abuse of their household pets. Animals are often the easiest target for abusers in a violent domestic relationship. They use the helpless companion animal as a means of control and power over their victims. Victims often delay leaving the abusive situation out of fear for their pets’ safety. It is estimated that near forty percent of women postpone leaving their abuser because of fear of what will happen to their pet when they leave.
Several states have recognized the need for serious measures beyond charges of animal cruelty and have passed or initiated legislation to include pets and animals in protective orders. Eight states have amended current laws to include animals in protective orders. Fifteen states have pending legislation to amend current laws to protect animals in domestic violence situations. Maine was the first state to enact such a law and their statute provides that the court is to issue orders of protection to safeguard the well-being of animals of either party or minor children.
The framework for most of this legislation is already in place and simply requires amending already existing laws in place against abusers in domestic violence situations. A Protective Order is one of many options available to victims of domestic violence. States are beginning to amend the laws to include pets and farm animals in the protective orders against their abusers.
Some state legislatures do not consider animal abuse and its connection with domestic violence a serious problem and simply bypass all proposed bills on this topic. Other States have made strong efforts to include animals in protective orders, recognizing the clear link between animal and domestic abuse.
There is a continuous cycle between animal abuse, domestic abuse, and child abuse, and, unfortunately, the law has not explicitly recognized the link between them. Children who are exposed to family abuse situations or who have abused animals themselves are at a greater risk of psychological and behavioral problems in the future. When children are exposed to violence or are the abusers themselves, the cycle is complete because they are more likely to grow up and become the abuser in their own families. If we are to break the cycle between animal abuse, domestic abuse, and child abuse, we must start by putting appropriate legislation into place. State legislatures must amend relevant laws to include animals in protective orders.
Protective orders are only the first step in the prevention of animal abuse in domestic violence situations. Cross-referencing between animal protection personnel, social service agencies and law enforcement is necessary to track, record, and ultimately prevent the domestic abuse cycle. Battered women shelters must also recognize the need for intake of victims accompanied by their pets. Over 100 “safe haven” programs have been put into place throughout the United States that help shelters collaborate with local animal organizations to find a safe place for the victim’s animals. These laws, with the added support of local government agencies and shelters, will provide the necessary level of protection for animals who are also victims of domestic abuse.