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(image from remarkableohio.org)

Ohio’s legislators have read the pregame report; they have seen the statistics.  Michigan has been a perennial Top 5 state in each of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s polls.  Ohio knows that Michigan, like any opponent, has a weakness.  A member of their team, Senator Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, comes up with their gameplan.  It is known as Senate Bill 177.  With the precision of a sniper, the state of Ohio strikes, sending a shot across the bow of their rival to the north.  On Friday, December 19, Ohio’s leader, Governor John Kasich, declares victory as Senate Bill 177 becomes the law of the land.  While this author may be prone to hyperbole, making it sound like this could be something straight out of the USA Today/AP Top 25 College Football polls, it seems around these parts that anytime a lower ranked Ohio or Michigan (as the case has unfortunately been for some time, at least with regards to football) beats their neighbor at anything, it is newsworthy.

As you probably deduced by now, the state of Ohio passed a law this month, Senate Bill 177, which authorizes judges to include animal companions in personal protection orders (PPOs) they issue.  Specifically, the bill states that “[t]he court may include within a protection order issued under this section a term requiring that the respondent not remove, damage, hide, harm, or dispose of any companion animal owned or possessed by the person to be protected by the order, and may include within the order a term authorizing the person to be protected by the order to remove a companion animal owned by the person to be protected by the order from the possession of the respondent.”  By Governor Kasich signing Senate Bill 177 into law, Ohio became the 24th state to make PPOs available to animal companions.

In 2006, Maine passed what at the time was a first of its kind statute in the United States that amended its protective order statute to expressly allow a court to enter “an order concerning the care, custody, or control of any companion animal or companion livestock owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household.”  Many states have cross reporting requirements and as noted above, almost half of the fifty states now have provisions that allow animal companions to be included in personal protection orders.  Cross-reporting requires law enforcement and social agencies to report abuse and collaborate so that for example an animal protection agency must report suspected child abuse and child protective services would be required to report suspected animal abuse.  Most states require a showing of good cause before allowing the animal to be included in a protective order.  For example, in Simmons v. Dixon, 240 S.W.3d 608 (Ark. Ct. App. 2006), the court granted a protective order to a woman and her dog after the appellant threatened to kill or beat both of them.

It has been recognized and known for some time now that there is a link between individuals who abuse humans and individuals who abuse animals.  A quick look back in time reveals that some of the most infamous serial killers, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and others, all had a prior history of abusing or torturing animals.  In a 1997 study conducted by the Massachusetts SPCA and Northeastern University, the criminal records of 153 people charged with intentional cruelty to animals were reviewed for the period ten years before and after the abuse.  According to the study, 70 percent of the abusers also committed violent, property, drug, or disorderly crimes compared to 22 percent of the control group.  In a New Jersey study of 53 families referred to youth and family services for child abuse, a staggering 88 percent of the families had a least one family member who physically abused animals.  In a Utah study of women seeking shelter from domestic violence, 71 percent of those women who shared their homes with animal companions reported their abusers had threatened to harm or kill their animal companion.  A more recent study conducted by the Chicago Police Department that examined crimes against companion animals between July 2001 and July 2004 showed that of the 322 animal cruelty arrests, more than 70 percent of those arrested had other felony charges, including homicides.

There are additional measures that can be taken by both animal shelters and humane organizations, as well as by domestic violence shelters and victim advocates.  Victim advocates can work with domestic violence victims to help them include their animal companions in their safety plans.  Towards this end, victim advocates may include questions on their intake questionnaires about any threats or actual injuries inflicted upon animal companions.  Victim advocates and animal rescue organizations/animal shelters should also work together to help establish programs for emergency housing for animal companions who are the victims of or are coming from the homes of domestic violence.  The emergency housing can either be at one of the shelters or a network of homes that volunteer to care for these animal companions in these extreme circumstances.

Additionally, states such as Michigan and the remaining 25 states that do not currently have PPO laws that include animal companions need to act now.  Victims should not have to go before a judge and demonstrate a showing of good cause before allowing the animal to be included in a protective order.  Legislators should follow the example of those in Ohio and elsewhere and should be working proactively to ensure that pets can be included in PPOs and that judges are informed as to why this is the right thing to do.

Please know that if you or your animal companion are the victim of domestic violence there are resources available.

Locally, in western Michigan, the following resources are available to animal victims of domestic violence:

  • In Kalamazoo at the Kalamazoo Humane Society in collaboration with the YWCA of Kalamazoo Domestic Assault Program
  • In Battle Creek at the Humane Society of South Central Michigan in collaboration with S.A.F.E. Place: Animal Victims of Domestic Violence (AVDV) Foster Care Program
  • In Allegan at Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance in conjunction with Sylvia’s Place: Protecting Animals and Women in Shelters (PAWS) Program

Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law and Animal Companion Mediation, as well as Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, Business Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.