AMONG THE ANIMALS: Protection orders keep pets safe from domestic violence

HoneyBee

Honeybee, kitten found in a box. Courtesy of Rachel Bjork

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in City Living Seattle

November 2015

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

Greenwood resident Rachel Bjork got a bit of a shock recently during her nightly walk with her dog, Mika. As they passed an intersection, Mika became interested in a non-descript shoebox that had been sealed shut and placed under a laurel bush. Bjork inspected the box, but unlike Mika, she ultimately found it unremarkable because trash is often left on the corner.

box note

Honeybee, kitten found in a box. Courtesy of Rachel Bjork

A moment later as she walked away, Bjork heard a loud meow. She paused, finding it difficult to believe a kitten would be sealed in that box and left on the street corner. But sure enough, Bjork picked up the box, and the meows got even louder.

Bjork quickly brought the kitten home and found the box had a note reading, “My mommys boyfriend is mean to me. desperat for loving home L,” in what appeared to be child’s writing.

After Bjork shared this story on social media, the kitten was quickly placed in a foster home through Meow Rescue in Kirkland and named HoneyBee.

But the note from the person who left the kitten suggested a larger problem than a single homeless, abandoned kitten. The person’s note seemed to indicate that the kitten was in danger from an abusive boyfriend and, hence, the “mommy” was likely in danger herself.

“We don’t know what bad situation this person is in,” Bjork said. “They may not have access to resources.”

Rachel Bjork posting note 2

Honeybee, kitten found in a box. Courtesy of Rachel Bjork

Bjork suspects the person who left the kitten felt she had no alternative to abandoning her. So Bjork decided to leave a note in the location where the kitten was found in the hopes that the kitten’s owner might discover it.

“I figure they cared about the kitten, and I wanted to let them know she is OK,” Bjork said. “I also included a number for New Beginnings.”

(Victims of domestic violence or even those in scary relationships can call New Beginnings, a nonprofit support center providing a 24-hour hotline at 206-522-9472, free resources, transitional housing, children’s services and emergency shelter. People can also call the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, which operates a hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE and offers financial, housing and legal assistance.)

It’s not uncommon for people to stay in domestic violence situations to protect their pets. Abusers may use the threat of violence or actual violence against an animal to control their human victims. To get to safety, victims may feel they must abandon their pets.

“This person may not have known about animal shelters,” Bjork said.

 

State, federal legislation

Thankfully, in 2009, the Washington state Legislature passed a pet protective order bill, House Bill 1148, entitled “Protecting animals from perpetrators of domestic violence.” The bill was passed with the help of The Washington Federation of Animal Care & Control Agencies, The Humane Society of the United States and several other groups.

The bill states, “The Legislature finds that considerable research shows a strong correlation between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence. The Legislature intends that perpetrators of domestic violence not be allowed to further terrorize and manipulate their victims, or the children of their victims, by using the threat of violence toward pets.”

Dan Paul, Washington state director of The Humane Society of the United States, explained, “Basically, victims of domestic violence can expand the protective orders to cover pets as well, so that they are not abused as a way to get back or further victimize the spouse or significant other.”

This law also allows the court to assign custody of the pet exclusively to the victim and inflict penalties against the abuser if s/he tries to prevent removal of the pet.

While this 2009 law applies only to Washington state, the U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering a bill to help protect victims of domestic violence and their pets nationwide. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act (HR5267) “amends the federal criminal code to prohibit threats or acts of violence against a person’s pet under the offenses of stalking and interstate violation of a protection order.”

If enacted, this bill would also direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to award grants for programs that support “victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking and their pets” and would express Congress’ encouragement for more states to include pets in protection orders, as is already the case in Washington state.

For this important bill to be enacted, your representative needs to hear from you. You can quickly contact your U.S. representative by visiting http://www.house.gov/representatives/find. Let your legislator know that victims and their pets both need protection and assistance and this bill makes that possible.

For everyone’s safety

While domestic violence is a difficult issue to converse about, it is a good reminder of how much our society depends on our relationship with animals. Our pets provide comfort and family, especially in times of uncertainty. Hence, ensuring that all animals are protected from violence is an important step forward — not just for the safety of animals but for the most vulnerable members of our human society, as well.

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