, Gloucester, MA


April 25, 2011

Editorial: Pets in cases of domestic abuse

At first glance, the idea of giving judges the authority to extend restraining orders to protect pets might sound a bit over the top, or like animal-rights political correctness run amok.

Yet it's easy to see how a pet could well be a target of either a custody dispute between a pair of warring spouses — or, perhaps even moreso, be subject to abuse, even death, if one party wants to "send a message" or otherwise try to inflict real of emotional harm in an abusive relationship.

So there are indeed several contexts to state lawmakers giving a green light to both a proposal filed by Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, as an amendment to the $30.45 billion spending document, and to standalone legislation filed by Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, who wants to permit judges to transfer control and care of a pet to a person who files a restraining order.

As Susan Curtis, executive director of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, put it, "It has been our experience working with animal control officers and veterinarians that often if a partner or a human member of a household is abused, often a pet is abused."

"Sometimes the abuse of a pet is a precursor to abuse of a member of a household, or vice versa," she said.

Similarly, Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, noted that "Many people will not leave or delay leaving a violent relationship because they're afraid of what will happen to a pet,"

Under current laws, the status of pets as targets of abuse amid a domestic dispute remains cloudy because pets are considered property — and that's understandable as well.

But if veterinarians, other animal rights backers and those who regularly work with cases involving domestic abuse all agree that this legislation will help cut more deeply into that social sickness, it's worth giving judges such an option.

They do — and it is.

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