Monday, January 16, 2012

For the LOVE of pets

I love animals. It's true. I absolutely LOVE them. As someone who studies violence and crime, I am constantly amazed at the ability of humans to hurt, betray, and violate one another, while pets remain so loyal and committed to their people, regardless of the horrid circumstances they are put through. I'm sure you have heard the stories about dogs who get thrown out of cars or survive their owners and yet steadfastly wait for the owners to return. These stories break my heart and also show me just how loving animals can be. A human turns his/her back so quickly, but the animal never stops loving.

Today's blog entry is about the love of animals and the links they have in lives of violence and abuse.  Recently, two states (Kansas and Florida) have taken steps to include animals in their domestic violence policies and statutes. These changes, however, did not occur out of the blue. No, in fact, animal heroes brought this change. When a Great Dane in Kansas placed itself over it's female owners body to protect her, it instead endured great injury at the hands of the woman's boyfriend. The boyfriend was using both sides of a hammer to hit his partner and the dog instead received these blows (resulting in a number of broken bones). Eventually the boyfriend threw both his girlfriend and this heroic Great Dane out of a second-story window. Both dog and owner survived and found refuge at a shelter. The shelter did not allow pets, but made an exception because the woman would not leave her pet.  Since this time, the shelter, Rose Brooks Center, has began renovations including the addition of a pet-friendly wing, dog kennels, a walking trail, and a pet-friendly outdoor play yard.

In Florida, two new bills have been passed. These include the Animal Abuse Registry bill and the Domestic Violence Against Family Pets bill. Both of these are important pieces of legislation and I recommend you look into both. However, I'm going to focus on the latter of these because it is the first of it's kind and makes a clear link between pets and humans in abusive situations. The Domestic Violence Against Family Pets bill is called "Horatio's law".  Situations of domestic violence are often volatile. Abusers frequently inflict harm on family pets as a way to "get at" their victims. Horatio, an 8-year-old Catahoula (picture above), was beaten so badly that he nearly died. He didn't though. His loyalty and love for his person, however, did leave him with a permanent indention in his head, nerve damage, and he now must wear goggles when in the sunlight. Horatio, like the Great Dane described above, laid himself over the body of his elderly female owner as her own son violently attacked her.  The woman and dog survived, but Horatio has since found a new home after his owner passed away in December.  Horatio's law "redefined the term domestic violence to include inflicting, or attempting to inflict, physical injury against an animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by one family or household member by another family or household member. It also includes placing a family or household member in fear of physical harm to a pet, which essentially widens the scope of the bill to include threats of violence against pets" (Dog Heirs).  

These cases or this news may not seem that important. But, I promise you it is. While working at a local Safehouse, I heard story after story about the violence pets experienced, the fear women faced leaving their pets behind, the stories of happiness they felt when finding out their pets could stay at a local shelter for free (this allowed the women, children, and pets to escape safely). I do, however, love the idea of having a separate pet-friendly wing so that animals and people can be together. Children, especially, do much better in these situations when their pets are with them.

And, though not stemming from a recent news story, I do want to mention that Oregon has been working to pass legislation that will allow judges to add animals belonging to victims to restraining orders under the Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA). And, Oregon is not the first. Maine passed this legislation and soon after 16 other states began including animals (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Vermont).

Below I've listed some other information that might bring to light the importance of these changes. The information is from the American Humane Society.

  • 71% of pet-owning women entering women's shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims 
  • 13% of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence
  • Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock should they leave

1 comment:

  1. This is such an important and compassionate initiative. I know the Rose Brooks Center is building a kennel on their property for pets of victims. Does anyone know if that kind of approach would be possible at shelters in other cities/states? If so, there are undoubtedly groups that would be willing to donate materials and skills to construct the same for other shelters. Anyone know how to launch this type of project?