Maine Law Protects Pets in Domestic Abuse Cases

Maine will become the first state in the nation to officially include pets in restraining orders for victims of domestic violence with the passage of LD1881 titled “An Act Amending the Animal Welfare Laws” on March 31, 2006. It will become law in July 2006. News of the law has appeared in consumer publications across the country and the world – including Japan, Australia, France, and Canada, said Norma Worley, director of Maine’s Animal Welfare Program, who instigated the legislation with the help of attorney Ann Jordan.

Worley began working on the law last June, when she and Jordan attended a state bar association luncheon and were asked by several judges to provide battered women with a solution for housing pets. “Women just didn’t want to leave their animals unprotected, and now they have an option,” Worley told NEWStat.

Judges in other states, like Delaware, have used their discretion to award temporary possession of personal property – such as pets – in protective orders, but Maine is the first to make it law. Worley believes that other states will soon follow suit, and Adrian Hochstadt, assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs for the AVMA, agreed.

“I think the publicity from this ‘first’ bill, coupled with the reported link between domestic and animal abuse is likely to produce more state legislation,” Hochstadt said. “I see this as a natural outgrowth of animal cruelty law.”

The Maine legislation was supported by the state’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and several other community members. It was endorsed by the Maine VMA, Worley said.

The grassroots network of professionals is important in many ways, said Kim Roberts, director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “This is a great way to get the message (preventing domestic violence) out and get communities together,” she said. Although she noted the controversy over requiring veterinarians to report suspected abuse, Roberts hopes that veterinarians will educate themselves and tell clients about available resources.

Veterinarians in some states – like Maryland – have helped by offering cages and kennels to shelters when a victim has a pet and there are no other shelters available. “Community groups need to get veterinarians involved,” Roberts said. Other veterinarians have offered free services for pets to financially assist women fleeing dangerous situations.

In Maine, victims of domestic violence have used a program called Pets and Women to Safety, which shelters victims’ pets. Many human shelters cannot accept pets because of health regulations and allergies.

Pet-Human Link

The well-established link between the abuse of pets and people has prompted the creation of many groups in the United States, and Frank Ascione, PhD, has published much of his extensive research on the topic in his book titled Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered. Statistics from several national surveys show that victims of domestic violence hesitate to leave dangerous situations because they fear for the life of their pets; other studies show that children who witness domestic violence may be more likely to hurt pets, illustrating the so-called cycle of violence in families. For example, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) cites a 1997 survey of 50 of the largest shelters for battered women, which shows that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering shelters discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family.

Roberts said that approximately 75 percent of the women who enter shelters said they delayed leaving violent partners because they feared for their pets’ lives.

Roberts believes that sheltering pets as well as victims will boost the number of women who leave batterers. “Once these types of options are available, we are bound to see more of those victims,” she said.

Many counties across the country have started pet shelter programs to encourage victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous situations, and in 1997 HSUS created First Strike to educate the public about the connection between violence to pets and people.

In Maine, a group of animal welfare agencies joined with the Maine Department of Agriculture, mental health workers, and domestic violence workers to form Pets and Women to Safety (PAWS). Since its creation in January 2001, PAWS has sheltered 110 animals for victims of domestic violence, and the numbers continue to climb, said Katie Dolloff, program coordinator. In the first three months of 2006, PAWS has sheltered nine pets. Since news of the Maine law hit the papers, there has been a definite increase in interest, she added.

The group, which operates within the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebec, Maine, works with local veterinarians for medical care and pays for a gamut of services including dental work and spay/neuter surgeries.

“We’ll go above and beyond for these animals,” Dolloff said. The organization used the book Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered as a guide for creating its liability waivers and medical information forms, Dolloff said.

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