EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

May 2, 2014

Column: Bill would protect animals from domestic violence

D.J. Bettencourt

This month, the New Hampshire state Senate has the opportunity to strengthen New Hampshire’s domestic violence laws and further protect our beloved four-legged friends.

House Bill 1410 provides our judges with flexibility in handling difficult domestic violence cases to grant custody of a pet to the individual seeking protection if appropriate to do so. Such an order can also prevent an alleged offender from having contact with the pet and using it as leverage against the victim to drop a restraining order. Finally, the legislation adds animal cruelty to the factors judges can consider when determining whether a protective order is warranted. Each provision is an important addition to New Hampshire’s already strong civil domestic violence laws.

These protections are hardly a new concept. If senators pass HB 1410, New Hampshire will join the rest of New England and become the 26th state to permit the inclusion of pets in protective orders.

Some have questioned whether this legislation is necessary. As the director of community relations at the Salem Animal Rescue League, I am sadly familiar with the necessity of this legislation. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that between 25 percent and 40 percent of battered women feel they are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets should they leave. There is undeniable evidence that people involved in violent acts against animals present a danger to the public that must be addressed.

To some, staying in an abusive situation for any reason is hard to understand. However, I speak with individuals everyday who without hesitation would put their own safety at risk to protect their pets. This legislation recognizes the reality of how the majority of individuals view their relationship with their animals -- not as pieces of property but as valued members of their family. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 98 percent of Americans consider pets to be members of the family.

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