Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Protection orders in Pennsylvania may soon extend to pets

 John L. Micek writing in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star:

You might have missed it during the hubbub over the state budget earlier this month, but a bill providing important protections to Pennsylvanians’ four-footed friends is on its way to the state Senate.

That’s because lawmakers in the lower chamber voted 130-73 last week to approve legislation expanding protection from abuse orders to include animals and house pets, thus “ensuring the safety and well-being of both domestic violence victims and their beloved animal companions,” the legislation’s sponsors, Reps. Christina Sappey, D-Chester, and Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, said in a joint statement.

The legislation comes in response to the sadly unsurprising news that abusers often target pets when they’re trying to get back at someone who has filed a protection from abuse order. That finding is backed up by “extensive research,” the lawmakers said.

The bill has the backing of more than 70 law enforcement, domestic violence, and animal welfare organizations, pointing to the very real need for its enactment, Sappey and Mihalik said.

“Pets are family members and play an essential role in offering comfort to individuals experiencing abuse,” Sappey said. “It is imperative that we take action to safeguard animals in conjunction with the well-being of those suffering from domestic violence. I’m pleased to see the bipartisan support this legislation has received.”

Mihalik echoed that sentiment.

“The decision to leave an abusive environment is difficult enough. Making certain that a pet can live free from abuse needs to be part of the PFA system, so it doesn’t further complicate the victim’s decision and also safeguards a loyal part of the family,” Mihalek said. “I want to thank Representative Sappey for working with me on this and seeing it as high as a priority as I do.”

Animal welfare advocates called on the state Senate to approve the measure.

“Victims of domestic abuse often delay leaving an abusive situation because they fear the abuser will harm their animals. By permitting the inclusion of pets within a protection order, [the bill] would make it easier for victims to leave a dangerous situation with their entire family, including their pets,” Kristen Tullo, the Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said.

Natalie Ahwesh, the executive director of Humane Action Pittsburgh, called the bill a “commonsense, bipartisan issue.

“Abusers often use family pets as leverage in their torment of their victims, threatening to harm or kill them if victims leave. With this bill, we can protect both animals and humans,” Ahwesh said.

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