By Stephen Wells
Last week, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed SB 177 into law, which authorizes judges to include companion animals in orders of protection from domestic violence. This law allows the person protected by the order to remove her companion animals from the home and states that a judge can stop an abuser who attempts to “remove, damage, hide, harm, or dispose of any companion animal owned or possessed by the person to be protected by the order.”
Why is it important to put animals in protective orders? Nearly half of the victims who stay in violent households do so because they are afraid of what will happen to their animals. Abusers can torment their victims by threatening to harm a companion animal. Many victims never leave the home for this very reason. This new law protects both human and animal victims of violence in these situations. Furthermore, as the Erie County Prosecutor’s Office has noted, this statute indicates to officers serving protective orders that they should not only look for the victim’s cellphone and keys—but also for the victim’s companion animals.
Putting companion animals in protective orders clears up some legal gray areas—and when victims are scared for their safety and worried about their children and animals, the last thing they need are unanswered questions regarding their orders of protection. In addition, allowing companion animals to be listed in protective orders emphasizes the importance of the safety of companion animals—and suggests that they are much more like family members than mere property. This legal clarification provides a great deal of relief for those who are hurting and afraid.
As ALDF recently noted in our 2014 U.S. Animal Protection Laws & State Rankings Report, several states amended protective order statutes this year to include animals—bringing the total number with these provisions to 26 states and the District of Columbia. According to the National Link Coalition, many states exclude farmed animals in these orders, which limits an individual’s ability to flee a dangerous situation when those animals—say, horses or egg-laying hens—are related to her financial security. So clearly there is significant room for improvement in animal protection laws. Other ways we can better protect animals include funding community shelters that allow animals to stay temporarily, giving victims of violence a place to go where they can bring their companion animals with them.
There is a well-documented link between violence against nonhuman animals and violence against people—abusers of animals are five times as likely to harm humans as well. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have established that violence—whether physical, sexual, or emotional—is fueled by silence. When a victim is afraid to speak up, because his or her safety, children, or animals are threatened, the cycle continues. Putting animals in protective orders is a crucial protection for human and nonhuman victims, and it speaks volumes about the way we value animals.