N.J. Assembly committee advances bill to extend domestic violence laws to pets
May 6, 2011
TRENTON — Every day, family pets are targets in homes where there is domestic violance, animal advocates say. And the emotional trauma of their suffering extends to their owners, who often choose not to leave their batterer because they fear for their pet’s well being.
Seeking to remove what advocates call a tool of revenge, the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would extend laws that protect domestic violence victims to also include family pets.
The bill (A1633) would allow judges to add family pets to restraining orders designed to keep abusers away from their victims, assign legal custody of pets to victims, and allow them to remove animals from dangerous homes.
“We’ve heard so many stories of pets being abused or even killed as retaliation against a partner when a relationship goes sour,” said Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), a co-sponsor.
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The bill addresses a well-researched link between domestic violence and violence against animals, Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey director of The Humane Society of the United States, told the committee. Twenty-one states have passed similar laws, she said.
The bill also shines light on how domestic violence permeates a household, and how abusers will use anything of importance — from personal secrets to children to pets — to gain the upper hand.
“I see this every month,” Victor “Buddy” Amato, chief of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said after testifying before the panel. “They actually hold an animal for ransom like a person.”
Sandy Clark, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women, said in a telephone interview there are “hundreds and hundreds of ways that batterers can threaten and attempt to control the victim. This is one of them. And it’s a big one.”
As it stands, judges can assign custody of family pets, but many victims, police officers and prosecutors do not think to ask for such protections, said Sherry Ramsey, director of animal cruelty prevention with the Humane Society and a former Monmouth County assistant prosecutor.
As Hurricane Katrina proved, she said, people will put themselves in grave danger to protect animals.
Nearly three quarters of women with animals at home who enter shelters report that their batterer injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or psychological control, according to the American Humane Association. Up to 40 percent of battered women choose not to escape violent homes because they fear what might happen to a pet, the association reports.
The measure now moves to the full Assembly. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.