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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Protection Orders Help All Family Members

Last week on Long Island, the law stood up for a duck named Circles. As far as I know, it was a first time that waterfowl rated such attention at the courthouse.

We can be delighted for the duck. And we can be thankful for our own sake. Increasingly, our society recognizes that cruelty extracts a terrible toll not just on the likes of Circles and other creatures, but on us humans too.

Artduckfilegi In this case a man was charged under New York’s felony animal cruelty law for shooting the duck with a pellet gun in a neighbor’s backyard. Circles has recovered from a bullet wound to her voice box, and a judge ordered the man to stay away from the bird.

Circles may have been a path-finding case insofar as wings and feathers go, but court orders protecting pets from harm are becoming more common. Recognizing the connection between animal cruelty and family violence, state lawmakers and law enforcement agencies around the country are rallying to provide greater safeguards for the whole of the family, animals too.

When pets are abused, it’s a warning siren about other potential violence in a household. One way for abusers to torment spouses, lovers, neighbors and others is to target pets. We all know there are few bonds deeper than those between a person and a companion animal—which makes the pet a prime target in the grisly cycle of suffering.

In a national survey of battered women's shelters, 85 percent reported cases of just such attacks on the pets of women seeking refuge. Imagine the countless numbers of other women who never reach out for help because they fear what might happen to their animals if they did. As it is, almost half of abused women say they delay leaving a dangerous domestic situation because their partners might harm or kill the family pet.

In 2006, Maine became the first state to recognize the significance of this relationship between people and animals. Today, court orders can be written to extend protections not just to a woman and her family, but also to pets.

In the last two years, nine other states—California, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont—have followed suit by passing laws allowing pet protection orders. Thirteen more—Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin—have already considered bills on the subject in 2008.

We’ve all heard of the canary in the mineshaft. Now we can add the duck in the backyard. Our pets don’t ask for the duty, but they can serve us as early warning systems. When our laws protect them, we are all better off.

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