Animal-protection legislation could factor into domestic disputes
BOSTON —Lawmakers are again considering legislation that would allow judges to extend restraining orders to protect the pets of domestic violence victims.
“Survivors of abuse may be reluctant to leave because of a pet and we believe giving the courts explicit authority to protect pets is going to go a long way as another tool to prevent domestic violence,” said Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose.
Among the bill’s co-sponsors are Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley.
The bill was debated in last year’s legislative session but never made it out of committee.
Kara Holmquist, advocacy director for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told State House News Service in April the law is unclear as to whether judges have the authority to include pets, which are considered property, in restraining orders.
“In the last three years Maine, Connecticut and Vermont have all passed laws that specifically and explicitly protect animals in restraining orders,” Clark said.
Clark told the Joint Judiciary Committee yesterday about recent cases of domestic abuse involving a pet, including a Roxbury man who allegedly threw a woman’s two cats out a window and a Plymouth man who was arrested after fatally shooting a woman’s dogs.
Two of Clark’s younger constituents, Rebecca Davis, 11, of Stoneham, and Emily Marget, 12, of Newton, presented a study by a battered women’s shelter where they volunteer that found 57 percent of women say their partners had abused or killed their pets. One in four women stay with the batterer because they don’t want to leave their pets behind.
The girls were backed by written testimony submitted by Maureen Gallagher, policy director of Jane Doe Inc., who wrote that 71 percent of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters reported that the abuser had threatened, injured or killed family pets. Gallagher also said 87 percent of pet abuse incidents are committed in the presence of a person being abused as a form of revenge or as a means to control the other person.
Gallagher also said 48 percent of battered women will not leave or will return to a violent relationship because they fear what might happen to an animal left behind.
Charlotte McGowan of Newton was the only person to speak against the bill, disputing Clark’s argument that concern for pets deters people from leaving abusive relationships.
“This is a feel-good bill,” she said. “I served as a legal advocate for battered women for years. I helped them fill out restraining orders in court. In all my training, I learned a lot about why women stay and animals weren’t the issue. The issues were economic and children. To me, this is a bill looking for a solution that has already been solved.”
Martha Grace, former Massachusetts Juvenile Court chief justice, was among those who spoke in favor of the bill.
“I’m not in favor of new laws for their own sake,” she said. “There is no cost to the commonwealth for this bill, and I urge your favorable passage.”