Florida may become the 22nd state in the United States to include family pets in protective orders in domestic violence cases. (Animal Legal and Historical Center maintains a list of states that already have such laws.)
If it is adopted, this legislation recognizes that abusers may target any member of the family, including companion animals. If adopted, it would become possible to include restraints on hurting, attempting to hurt or threatening an animal “owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by” another family or household member. The law would give the person petitioning for protection “exclusive care, custody, or control” of any animal member of the household. Violating such a protective order would carry criminal penalties.
Florida State Senator Mike Fasano filed the bill in September. It was introduced in the Florida State Senate 10 January as Senate Bill 288, “Domestic Violence Against Family Pets.” It has passed through review by the Criminal Justice, Judiciary and Budget committees.
Senator Fasano prefers to call the bill “Horatio’s Law,” WTSP.com, DogHeirs.com and other local news media reported, after a courageous Catahoula who stepped in between his elderly human and her son to absorb the blows. Although the human Horatio so loyally protected passed away in December, Horatio now lives happily with a new person.
Although still rare, laws recognizing the role of animals in domestic violence respond to recent research that describes a strong link between abuse of humans and family pets. Based on research with women living in domestic violence, Clifton P. Flynn argued in Animals and Society in 2000, that the recognition that animals actually are members of the family may be what puts them at risk. Some abusers see the animal companion as competition. Some threaten or hurt animal companions as a means to intimidate their partners.
U.S. society is responding a bit faster to new understandings about animals and domestic violence than its law is. Some shelters now allow those fleeing abuse to bring animals or will help make arrangements for temporary housing and care for animals in the family. Lawyers.com suggests that people seeking legal help in domestic violence situations ask their attorneys to help them include pets in restraining orders in states that allow them. Part of this process will probably involve proving who owns the pet, so make sure to keep relevant documents. Some local police departments, such as police in Minneapolis, may be able to remove family to safety in local shelters immediately.
Non-profit organizations, such as Ahimsa House, in Atlanta, Georgia, also offer advice for navigating the legal system. In addition to providing advice about how to get animals included in restraining orders, Ahimsa House also organizes transportation of pets to safe places and maintains an online listing of shelters for animals threatened in domestic violence.
A shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, changed the no-pets policy in response to the act of a heroic Great Dane, who kept his human’s boyfriend from hitting her with a hammer, the Huffington Post reported. This is the first shelter in that area to open to family animals.
As numerous sources, including the Huffington Post, report, almost half of the callers looking for shelter from violence in their homes refuse it when pets are not welcome at the shelter.
Check out the list of states that allow family animals to be included in domestic violence protection orders. If yours is on the list, thank your stars. If it’s not, call your legislators to encourage them to support a new law. If the local shelter has a no-pets policy, suggest that they reconsider. If the shelter nearest your takes family animals into consideration already, please thank them from me.