A 'pawsitively' great newanimal law

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

For all the negative things that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been in the news for lately, I found a pleasant surprise in my newsfeed the other day. He recently signed into law additional protection for pets at risk of abuse and/or neglect.

On May 19, House Bill 4478 expanded the personal protection order (PPO) laws to include “animal[s] in which the petitioner has an ownership interest.” The recognition that animals are often used as a means to threaten or injure the abused partner in a domestic violence relationship is a huge step in encouraging the abused partner to end the relationship.

Many abuse victims stay in the unhealthy partnership due to threats and fear that their children will be taken away. However, people also remain in the relationship due to the same threats and fears as it relates to their beloved pets. Often times it is difficult for the person to escape with her pet because shelters and family members won’t or can’t accommodate the dog or cat. Similar to how children are used as weapons against one parent in court actions and domestic violence relationships, so are pets.

The abuser tells the victim that if she leaves, she can’t take the dog, or the cat will be killed if she walks out the door. Not willing to risk harm to the pet, the victim complies and stays in the relationship.

With the new law taking immediate effect, courts now have the authority to add pets to a PPO, prohibiting someone from doing any of the following acts, “with the intent to cause the petitioner mental distress or to exert control over the petitioner with respect to an animal in which the petitioner has an ownership interest”: “injuring, killing, torturing, neglecting, or threatening to injure, kill, torture, or neglect the animal….removing the animal from the petitioner’s possession….retaining or obtaining possession of the animal.”

Michigan is the 30th state to afford this protection to pets. According to the ASPCA, the overwhelming majority of women at domestic violence shelters – 71 percent – have experienced their abusive partner threatening or actually injuring (including killing) a pet.

However, while this law is a great step in encouraging victims to leave an abusive relationship, the reality is that many shelters still will not accept pets. Hopefully by affording pets greater protection under the law, shelters will be able to obtain funding or set up a foster program to care for the animals of abuse victims until safe, permanent housing can be acquired.

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Marie Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

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