NEWS AND COMMENT-UTAH, USA: I love news stories in which companion animals are treated with the same value as humans. This is truly the way to relate to animals. It is about an enlightened attitude towards animal welfare. It’s also about education and truly respecting animals who provide so much to so many people.
The story concerns the US state of Utah. It’s a story which should concern every place in every country. Other jurisdictions have taken similar steps. The Utah Legislature is discussing, and is going to pass, a law which allows a victim of domestic violence abuse (usually a woman) to petition a court to include the family’s companion animal in a personal protective order or stalking injunction. The animal can be owned by the victim or by the abuser. The key is to protect the animal.
And so, we have the prospect of companion animals being protected by court injunctions. These are court orders which stop the abuser abusing a companion animal. We all know the scenario. The abuser wants to emotionally harm the victim, normally a woman. And because the woman is very emotionally connected to the companion animal, often a cat, to threaten to harm the cat, and to actually harm the cat, is very hurtful.
The threats to harm a cat often forces the woman to return to the family home where they continue to be the victim of abuse. Or they remain in the home in order to protect their companion animal where they continue to be victimised by an abusive husband or partner.
There’s lots of information about domestic violence against people and associated domestic violence against companion animals. In fact, there is a correlation between domestic abuse, animal abuse, elder abuse and child abuse according to Abigail Benesh a lawyer with the Humane Society.
And a report (2021) from the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice concluded that in the United States there was an 8.1% increase in domestic violence in the first year of the Covid pandemic. Stresses had been built up within families because of lockdowns, homeschooling, isolation and job loss.
The Utah’s House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee endorsed i.e. has agreed, bill HB 175 last week. All the committee members voted in favour of it.
One member of the committee, Rachel Heatley, said that domestic violence is a “secondary pandemic” in reference to the increase, as mentioned above, in domestic violence during Covid 19.
She referred to a case concerning a Farmington man was arrested after abusing several women and torturing animals that belonged to them. He laughed while he tortured and mutilated them. This new law might have protected the animals.
The debating chamber of the Utah Legislature approved HB 175 by a 69-2 vote on Friday. The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City (pictured above). She reported that 71% of women in domestic violence shelters said that their abusers also injured or threatened and, in some instances, killed their companion animals as a means of controlling them. And 25% of survivors of domestic violence return to their abusers because of threats against their companion animals. The bill now goes to the Senate. How can you vote against a bill like this?
Abigail Benesh said: “Abusers often exploit the emotional attachments that victims have with their pets. That has them become pawns in this cruel game of coercion, manipulation and control in order to create an environment of fear and induced compliance.”
One resident urged the committee to approve the bill. Her story is particularly poignant. Inguinn Tersten said that her daughter is supported by a service dog. Every time that she tried to get out of the relationship her former partner would control the situation with threats against the dog. He knew that they couldn’t leave without the dog.
Another resident, Jessica Gonzales, said that her boyfriend threatened to lock her dog outside in freezing temperatures if she didn’t come home. Another classic blackmailing threat to harm a dog to force the woman to do the man’s bidding. Gonzales eventually escaped an abusive relationship but it took her weeks to get her dog back.
She said: “If a bill like this would have existed, I probably would have left a lot sooner.”