Bill would extend domestic violence protections to pets

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Americans take pride in treating their pets like members of the family, animal advocate Beatrice Friedlander says.

Usually this means lounging on the couch with the cat or slipping the dog scraps of food from the dinner table. But in dysfunctional or violent families, Friedlander said, animals that are treated like members of the family can become victims too.

Between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners also abused or killed the family pet, according to the Humane Society of the U.S.

To increase protections for pets in abusive homes, Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, introduced an amendment to the state’s domestic violence law. The bill would classify harm or attempted harm to a household animal as domestic violence, and it would use state funding for further animal protections.

Kosowski has already had some success in expanding domestic violence protections to pets. Pets can be included in personal protection orders in cases of domestic violence, thanks to a new law he sponsored last year.

“If you’re threatening your spouse or friend with a pet saying you’ll kill it, it could be construed as domestic violence,” Kosowski said. “The biggest thing is that domestic violence shelters could have animals and get state funding.”

Domestic violence law states that local governments and nonprofit organizations may receive state funds to create or maintain a shelter program for victims of domestic violence and their children. Kosowski’s bill includes housing a victim’s animals as well.

Some of the state’s shelters already allow pets. These include the Cadillac Area OASIS, Center for Women in Transition in Holland, COVE in Ludington, Women’s Center Harbour House in Marquette, Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan in Petoskey, Diane Peppler Resource Center in Sault Ste. Marie and Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services in Three Rivers.

The proposal would also add veterinary care to a list of services that domestic violence shelters should provide. Currently, shelters must offer at least three services from a list that includes crisis and support counseling, emergency health care, child care, housing and legal, financial or transportation services.

“We appreciate Kosowski’s efforts,” said Friedlander, president of the statewide nonprofit group Attorneys for Animals. “He contacted our organization, and he wanted to meet with representatives of the organization to find out what we thought were the gaps in legislation in Michigan.”

Many domestic violence victims don’t leave their homes, even if they can, because there is no place to take their animals, Friedlander said. If an animal has been threatened, she said many victims will stay in a violent relationship because they fear what will happen to their pet.

Katy Conklin, executive director of Hope Shores Alliance in Alpena, said animal violence is a common tactic used by abusers to intimidate victims. She said she has provided services to victims who have said their animal was killed by an abuser.

Hope Shores Alliance advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence. The organization offers an emergency shelter, long-term housing, 24-hour crisis intervention, legal advocacy and counseling services. It serves Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties.

According to Conklin, animal intimidation reaches beyond household pets like cats and dogs. In more rural communities, she said it is also important to provide protections for livestock. She said she is concerned about the plausibility of Kosowski’s legislation, for many domestic violence shelters may not be able to support large farm animals and veterinary care for livestock would be costly.

In the legislative session so far, Kosowski said he hasn’t seen many hearings for bills introduced by Democrats. He remains uncertain if his legislation will get a hearing, but said he is hopeful because the bill was referred to the House Committee on Law and Justice.

Committee Chair Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, could not be reached for comment.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, introduced a similar bill in the U.S. Senate, called the Pet and Women Safety Act. It would provide grants for programs to address domestic violence and animal abuse. The same legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.    

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

If you’re looking for a safe place for you and your pet, visit Safe Havens Mapping Project at thehotline.org/help/pets/.