Sometimes the only surprise a new law gives me is that it did not already exist. On the topic of animals, my most popular mental question is â€œWhat do you mean the law doesnâ€™tâ€¦?â€
A recent example: â€œWhat do you mean the law doesnâ€™t extend restraining order protection to pets?â€ A handful of states do offer such protection, and Illinois joined them in August when the governor signed HB 9 into law (effective January 1, 2008).
Rep. John A. Fritchey of Chicago originally introduced the legislation in May 2006. Also in 2006, Maine made history as the first state with such a law, followed by Vermont and New York.
Itchmo covered a Connecticut law passed earlier this year. According to the Humane Society of the United States, bills are pending in other states including Michigan and Wisconsin. As I write, California bill SB 353 waits for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s signature, and a New Jersey bill if passed would offer a pet protection order against someone already found guilty of animal cruelty.
This article has a deeply personal resonance. My grandmother was a domestic violence victim, fleeing her home more than 40 years ago with four children in tow. I grew up hearing sad tales of abuse fueled by alcohol, ghost stories starring a faceless grandfather I met years later when my mom decided reconciliation might increase her healing.
As a dog-loving kid too young to process this tragic anecdotal tapestry, I remember feeling devastated my mother never had a puppy. A dog would have made everything â€œall better,â€ like any remedy prescribed by childish logic.
Statistics from American Humane remind me that my Mom may have been almost lucky she had no dog to hug back then. Too often animals are one more pawn, one more beloved life to harm or threaten in the cycle of physical and emotional violence, one more reason to stay too long in a dangerous environment.
Even the best legislation cannot offer complete solutions, and shelters for people are seldom shelters for pets. Community organizations have stepped into this gap for years, including Safety for Animals and Families in Emergencies (SAFE) in Ohio, and the Animal Welfare Society in Maine.
Laws may not offer complete solutions, but they do help — and they serve as milestones of cultural progress. In my grandmotherâ€™s day, there were no laws addressing domestic violence. Animal cruelty is now a felony in most states. And in one more state, Illinois, domestic violence victims have a new way to protect the pets they love.
Photo: Candace Schilling