Op-Ed by Caitlin Alyse Baiduc – Humane Action Pennsylvania, Eastern PA Coordinator
2023 survey data indicate that nearly 70 percent of US households have at least one pet. Pets are integral members of the family – they can be a wellspring of joy, act as a source of consolation in hard times, and even serve as protectors of house and home. Unfortunately, pets are not immune to violence within the confines of our homes. In what researchers have dubbed the link, the co-occurrence of animal abuse and interpersonal violence is well documented.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines interpersonal violence as, “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.” Interpersonal violence includes acts of domestic violence (DV), elder abuse, and child abuse. Shockingly, up to 75% of female DV survivors with pets report that their abusers also threatened, harmed, or killed their beloved pets. Abusers also use threats of violence or acts of violence against pets as a means of controlling their human victims.
The decision to leave an abusive partner is complicated – financial dependency, religious obligations, codependency, and feelings of fear or shame can all play a role. When the abuser has threatened or committed acts of harm against the victim’s pet, the situation becomes even more convoluted. Nearly 50% of DV survivors surveyed reported they had postponed leaving or returned to an abusive environment due to concerns about the well-being of their pets. In states without the option to include animals in protection from abuse (PFA) orders, the decision to leave an abusive situation is even more fraught. DV victims may be faced with an agonizing decision: should they escape their abusive partner, leaving their pets behind to endure potential further abuse, or remain in an abusive relationship to protect their animals?<
To date (2023), 36 states as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico allow animals to be included in PFA orders. With Rep. Christina Sappey’s proposed legislation H.B. 1210, Pennsylvania may soon join the ranks as the 37th state to offer this crucial protection.
H.B. 1210 is a proposed amendment to Title 23 (Domestic Relations) and would allow for companion animals to be included in PFA orders. These orders serve to shield DV victims by restricting the abuser’s contact with the victim. Pennsylvania’s existing Title 23 law already permits minors to be included in PFA orders. H.B. 1210 aims to expand this protection to include companion animals, enabling victims to leave a dangerous situation with their entire family – including their beloved pets – intact.
H.B. 1210 passed in the House in July 2023 with bipartisan support. The bill has since moved to the PA Senate. In a state of nearly 13 million, where 37.1% of women and 30.4% of men experience intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, the problem is too large to ignore. It underscores the urgency for comprehensive legislative action to protect the vulnerable and create a safer environment for all Pennsylvanians, human and animal alike.
The passage of HB1210, which would allow animals to be included in protection from abuse orders, represents a pivotal stride forward in recognizing the importance of animal welfare in the Commonwealth and in empowering DV victims to sever ties with their abusers. By acknowledging the link between animal abuse and violence against humans, providing legal recourse for victims of animal cruelty, and sending a powerful message about our values, this bill has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of both humans and animals. It is a step towards a more compassionate and just society, one that values the welfare of all its members, regardless of species. I earnestly urge our legislators in the PA Senate to support this crucial legislation and help protect the voiceless companions who bring immense love and joy into our lives.
Caitlin Alyse Baiduc, MS
Humane Action Pennsylvania, Eastern PA Coordinator