Lawmaker seeks to include family pets in temporary protection from abuse orders

Posted April 04, 2013, at 7:01 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Fear, intimidation and manipulation are common tactics in relationship violence, but threatening or harming an animal in retaliation for filing a protection from abuse order would become illegal under a bill proposed Thursday in Augusta.

Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, said her bill, LD 687, An Act to Amend the Law Concerning Protection from Abuse Orders to Include Pets, resulted from a request from a former probate judge who is one of her constituents.

Permanent protection from abuse orders already cover pets, but temporary orders — which are in effect between a victim’s filing for one and a court hearing — do not.

“That time is a very dangerous time in a family’s life,” said Boland. “Abusers will often abuse pets to terrorize the victims. Children who have become very attached to their pets are especially vulnerable. It seems that as long as we have protection for these animals from abuse in final orders, it makes sense that we do it for temporary orders.”

Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said her organization championed the protection of pets in permanent protection from abuse orders and supports extending that protection to temporary orders. The law covers not only cats and dogs, but a range of other species, such as farm animals.

“We know both from research and anecdotal stories that abusers routinely threaten the welfare of animals as a strategy of intimidation,” said Colpitts. “We know that both adults, and particularly children, who have been victimized turn to animals as a consolation and trusted companion and that they will sometimes endanger themselves in order to be sure that the animals are safe. … The control and safety of loved pets has to be directly confronted in order that victims can move forward into their own safety planning.”

The Humane Society of the United States also threw its support behind Boland’s bill. Katie Hansberry, the society’s director in Maine, said Maine’s 2006 law allowing judges to include pets in protection from abuse orders was the first of its kind. She said some studies show that up to 48 percent of battered women delay leaving a dangerous situation because they fear harm will come to a family pet.

“It is crucial to be able to get animals away from an abuser during the time when things are usually the most dangerous, namely when a victim is leaving an abusive situation,” said Hansberry. “Because of the often close ties between women, children and their pets, domestic violence victims delay leaving because they fear for their pets’ safety.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill, which now moves to a public hearing, where the committee will make a recommendation to the full Legislature on whether it should pass or not.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 1-866-834-4357, TRS 1-800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

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