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Dangerous connection: Animal abuse and domestic violence

Posted by Marcia Dick  March 2, 2011 10:02 AM

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This past week, a Lowell man was charged with several counts of assault and battery and animal cruelty against his girlfriend, a second victim, and his girlfriend’s dogs. Miguel Andino allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend’s family if she attempted to end the relationship. He also allegedly beat her dogs, strangling them until their eyes hemorrhaged, and locked the smallest dog in a drawer for up to 10 hours at a time. This troubling case is one example of the dangerous link between domestic violence and animal abuse. Each year more than three million women across the country are victims of domestic violence, making it the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44. In the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds. Despite the abuse, battered women often delay in leaving these abusive relationships. Studies by the American Humane Society show that nearly half of battered women delay leaving an abusive environment because they fear for a pet’s safety.

The Humane Society stresses that animal battering should be taken seriously because it is often linked to child abuse. Animal abuse also exposes the deliberateness of battering rather than a loss of control by the abuser. The threatening, injuring, or killing an animal can also indicate the potential for increased violence and lethality.

Animals are frequently used as pawns in the power dynamic of the abuser over the abused. The more cherished the pet, the more the pet can be used as a means of control. Animal abuse is used to retaliate for acts of independence and as a means to get a partner to return to the household or not to leave. Threats or violence against pets can perpetuate an atmosphere of fear in a household and isolate family members. Survivors of abuse may be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship because of a pet — either because the animal may be at a heightened risk for abuse, or because the survivor is not able to take the animal with him or her.

Among women seeking a safe shelter, 85 percent also reported pet abuse in their home. In recent years, other states have begun to tackle this issue. 17 other states, including Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont, have passed laws that specifically include animals in protective orders. To address the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, I have filed a bill that would create similar legal protections in Massachusetts.

An Act Relative to Domestic Violence and Animals would allow pets to be included in restraining orders and allows the court to order the defendant to refrain from abusing, threatening, or disposing of the animal. The bill also would extend police powers so that police have the ability to address the needs of pets in a domestic violence situation. The proposed legislation also seeks to assist abused men or women in finding placement for their animals when leaving a domestic violence situation.

In Massachusetts, we have the opportunity to make strides in addressing and preventing domestic violence this legislative session. This legislation, along with adequate funding for services and programs, can help victims leave abusive relationships and have the resources and protections in place to be safe.

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