N.H. proposal would extend protective orders to pets
New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a bill that would extend domestic violence protective orders to pets.
The proposal would give judges the power to grant custody of a pet or farm animal to the person seeking protection from domestic violence and bar the alleged offender from having contact with the pet. It also adds animal cruelty to the factors judges can consider in deciding whether a protective order is warranted.
The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted, 14-2, to recommended passage of the bill. The full House is slated to debate the proposal today.
Advocates for domestic violence victims say there is a striking overlap between animal cruelty and the propensity of an abuser to harm family members.
“We have heard from a number of our crisis centers that speak to women who are victims but are afraid to leave their homes because they fear what their abusers would do to the family pet if they do leave,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“This would provide options to keep their pets and themselves safe,” she said.
Critics say cruelty to animals already is a crime and expanding domestic violence laws to pets dilutes these safeguards and could escalate tension.
“The flawed language in this bill would allow a party in a domestic violence dispute to use the power of the courts to forbid another party from visiting a beloved pet – further escalating hostilities between parties,” Manchester Republican Rep. Mark Warden wrote in the committee’s minority report.
If the proposal becomes law, New Hampshire would be the fifth New England state to include pets in protective orders and the 26th nationwide to do so, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute. Eight years ago, Maine became the first state to include pets in protection orders.
Attorney Chris Green, director of legislative affairs for the Washington-based Animal League Defense Fund, said animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people.
“It’s hard to think of a single argument against this,” Green said.
Franklin police Chief David Goldstein, a driving force behind the proposed legislation, said he persuaded a local judge more than a year ago to include pets in protective orders.
“One of the things we’ve known forever is that animals in the house can be used to control victims very easily in domestic violence,” Goldstein said. “We’re trying very hard to give victims as many protections as possible.”