Monday, January 25, 2016

Domestic violence: Pets often involved, and often forgotten

Sinead the Boston terrier and her suitcase
Sinead is very close to pocket-sized, so I can take her with me almost everywhere I go. She's been in cars, on airplanes, on busses and in taxis. She's been to Washington, Oregon, Chicago and Nashville. This summer, she'll go to Arizona. She goes most places with me. And often, whether or not I can take her is a key consideration when I'm planning to leave the house.

And that's a little scary, as there's one place I probably couldn't take her.

Most shelters for domestic violence victims do not allow pets to come along. The victims (Who are often women, so I'm going to use "she." That does not mean men cannot be victims.) are often encouraged to leave all of their possessions behind and to flee to safety when they have an opportunity to do so.

Many of these women choose not to leave simply because they cannot bring their pets with them.

I am not, in any way, in an abusive relationship. But I understand the thinking. If you were living with someone who had no qualms about abusing you, how could you leave your little pet behind with that person? What if the person turned on your pet, since you were gone?

And some abusers specifically target the victim's pet, knowing that the threat of abuse to the pet can keep the victim in line. After enough of those threats, you'd believe that your pet was in danger. You'd feel it in your bones.

At this point, there are little to no protections for women like this. But there is pending legislation that might make a difference.

Recently, I heard about a bill called the Pet Women and Safety Act of 2015. This bill would outline specific legal action women could take if their pets were harmed during the course of domestic violence, and it would provide grants that could allow more shelters to take in pets. This bill does not do enough to stop the issue, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Right now, according to this website, it's in committee.

Committees can take ages to act on things, and sometimes, bills that are sent to committee die there. But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do as active members of the animal community. Sinead is pointing to one of the most powerful tools we have.
Sinead the Boston terrier looking at her phone
The legislators that work for us need to know about the issues we'd like for them to work on. This is one of them. If we can move this issue to the top of the to-do list, we might be able to get that bill out of committee and to the voting floor. Or better yet, we could push our legislators to enact laws at the state or local level. That could help the animals in your community, and demonstrate how much we need a federal law that extends those protections nationwide.

You can use this website to find your local senator, and use this website to find your local House representative. A call or a letter could be incredible help for women in need. Thanks, in advance, for lending your voice to the conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! We are working on a similar one. This is so common and many women will stay because they are afraid their pets will be killed if they leave. Imagine having to make that choice ...