Texas Drops the Gravel on Pet Abuse

September 28, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Tia Gannon
tgannon@smu.edu

Domestic violence not only affects the people in a household. Often the four-legged members are victims of abuse and neglect as well. Now, furry family companions are covered under Texas’ new pet protective order law.

Pets, companion animals and assistance animals are protected along with their owners under protective orders. They may not be removed, harmed or threatened by an abuser. Violators of a protection order involving an animal will receive a misdemeanor for a first offense and felony for two or more violations.

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2011, making Texas the 23rd jurisdiction in the United States able to legally include pets as a member of the family.

About 70 percent of domestic violence victims who seek shelter report abuse inflicted on their animals as well, according to Domanick Munoz, supervisor of Dallas Animal Services, who specializes in animal cruelty. Munoz believes this law is long overdue.

A Dallas man recently tossed his girlfriend’s dog out of a 19th floor apartment window following a heated argument. A security guard reported seeing the women with a bruised face and bloody lip. The dog was found the following morning on the apartment pool deck 11 floors below.

Local Animal Rights attorney Yolanda Eisenstein has encountered numerous cases of animals being abused in a home where domestic violence is occurring. She recalls a story a few years ago when a Dallas man tossed his girlfriend’s dog off of an overpass onto a busy highway below.

Eisenstein hopes the new law will result in increased awareness and education so that people can protect their animals as well as themselves and their children in abusive situations. Family lawyers need to be educated on this law so that they can enforce it when necessary, she said.

One of the leaders in getting the law passed was Robert “Skip” Trimble, treasurer of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. The organization lobbies on behalf of animals.

The network looks to the “boots on ground,” Trimble said. They are the first responders who let them know what is going on with the animals in the community. Many times a family pet is used as a lever by an abuser to gain dominance over their victims.

“We hear of all sorts of horrific things happening to animals that it is hard to even believe,” said Trimble.

The Family Place is Dallas’ largest family violence help program, offering a wide range of services to both victims and perpetrators of family violence. The organization provides emergency shelters, counseling and other educational programs to adults and children.

Executive Director Paige Flink hopes that the new law will give people peace of mind that their pet will be protected if they need to leave an abusive situation.

Pet abuse is one of the primary red flags of an abusive situation. Flink explains that counselors at The Family Place often see a correlation between abusing animals and being abusive to family members or people they are dating. Perpetrators see abusing pets as a way to get back at the victim.

Although some victims’ shelters in the United States allow pets, many do not. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, only one in eight domestic violence shelters allow pets. Rebecca Poling is the President and Founder of Companions for Life in Dallas, a non-profit organization formed to promote the welfare of animals through education and shelter outreach programs.

“Until domestic violence shelters start including animals I don’t see a long term solution. But this is a start,” said Poling.

There is a temporary boarding program called PetSafe in Houston. The program provides shelter, medical care and food for animals of families going into a shelter in order to escape an abusive situation. The Family Place is hoping to work with animal rights groups in creating a program where people can place their animals temporarily when leaving an abusive situation.