By JESSI GOWER
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – At least 71 percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters have reported their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets, according to the American Humane Association.
Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst, says he hopes to give solace to these pets and their owners with House Bill 972. The bill states that a protective order may grant possession of the family pet to the petitioner and prohibit further violence directed toward the pet. If passed, Virginia will join 23 states that already have laws protecting companion animals.
“As a former prosecutor of domestic violence,” Cline told the U.S. Humane Society, “I have seen firsthand the hesitation of victims to leave their abusers without their family pet. This important bill will help provide victims with the security they need to take that important step and successfully escape an abusive relationship.”
According to sexual and domestic abuse statistics, abusers often go after pets because the animals offer a target for revenge and can be used to psychologically control the abuser’s victims.
Laura Donahue, Virginia director for the HSUS, says stories about this type of incidents are common and that abused pets deserve as much justice and protection as the victims.
“These abusers are very calloused and will do anything to control their victims,” Donahue said. “It’s a fact that people love pets, and that most owners consider them part of their family. The abusers know this and will threaten to hurt the animal if the victim leaves, which ultimately prevents them (the victim) from escaping the domestic abuse.”
The bill hopefully will help to protect domestic abuse victims and their pets, as well as keep them together.
Sharon Adams, executive director for the Virginia Beach SPCA, says the society regularly takes in animals involved in domestic violence situations so that owners can seek help at a shelter. She also said almost 70 percent of the time, the victim comes back for the pet once the victim has left the abuser and is a healthy, safe environment. Animals that cannot be reunited with their owners are put up for adoption within the shelter or other organizations.
Supporters of the legislation say they are hopeful that it will not only save owners from having to give up their pets, but the law also will save the lives of victims and animals who otherwise wouldn’t be able to survive or leave the abuse.
“This is honestly a life-saving bill,” Donahue said. “Often times there aren’t a lot of bills where you can say for every animal life it’s saving, it’s also saving human life. It (the law) would help allow victims and their pets to get out of dangerous and abusive situations … together.”