HARTFORD -- Proposed state legislation would extend domestic violence restraining orders to protect pets in physically abusive relationships among couples.
Domestic violence counselors say the legislation is needed to stop abusers who often target family pets to terrorize spouses or partners.
"A lot of victims of domestic violence are in horrible positions because abusers will make threats against their pets and carry them out," said Lisa Holden, the executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Connecticut law allows individuals to seek restraining orders in civil court if they fear domestic violence or to obtain protective orders in criminal court if they are victims of domestic violence in a criminal case.
The orders often prohibit an alleged abuser from having contact with, threatening, harassing, or entering the home of the applicant or other individuals who are identified in the order by court officials.
People who violate the orders can face a criminal charge of violating a protective order or criminal trespassing or be subject to a fine of up to $5,000.
The proposed law extends those protections to domestic animals and pets.
"You don't have to think very long or very hard to understand how pets could be put at risk in the context of a domestic dispute," said state Senator Andrew W. Roraback, Republican of Goshen, the bill's sponsor.
Domestic violence crisis counselors look for a history of animal abuse when screening victims seeking protection.
Specialists generally see a direct connection between violence against animals and whether a person will act violently against spouses, partners, and children.
Victims often stay in abusive relationships fearing what might happen to their pets, counselors said.
"This isn't about just protecting animals. It's about protecting people," said Liz Burne, a Sharon lawyer and former domestic violence counselor.
Similar legislation has been adopted in Maine, New York, and Vermont.
The legislatures of California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington also are considering bills to protect pets, said Joanne Bourbeau, New England regional director of the Humane Society.
A study by a psychologist at Utah State University in 1999 showed that more than 70 percent of the women surveyed in one domestic violence shelter reported that their abusers had threatened to harm or had harmed their animals.
Of those surveyed, 54 percent reported that their pets had been harmed or killed.
In comparison, 5 percent of a group of women with no history of domestic violence reported violence against their pets by partners.