Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: This Utah Bill Aims to Protect Companion Animals

Utah Legislature Set to Allow Pets to Be Included in Personal Protection Orders After House Approval HB175 by a 69-2 vote on Friday.

According to the godmother, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, 71% of women in domestic violence shelters say their abusers have also threatened, injured or, in some cases, killed their pets “as a means of control “. She said 25% of survivors return to their abusers because their abuser threatens them with their pet.

“I know people always ask me why I enforce sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking legislation, and I think I do it because someone has to be that voice,” said Romero. “And in the time of COVID right now, there are a lot of people in very vulnerable situations. I want to make sure that we continue to say “We see you” and that they get the help they need and protect themselves, their children and their pets.

A 2021 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that the United States saw an 8.1% increase in domestic violence cases in the first year of the pandemic. Isolation, job loss and the stress of childcare and homeschooling may have contributed to the increase, the report said.

Humane Society Associate Marketing Director Guinn Shuster walks with a dog that is up for adoption at the Humane Society of Murray on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. HB175, being considered this year by the Utah Legislature, would allow people to include pets on personal protection orders.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee approved HB175 last week, with all current members of the committee voting in favor. The bill allows individuals to ask the court to include pets as part of a personal protection order or stalking injunction, whether the animal belongs to the victim or the abuser .

The bill would make Utah join 35 other states with similar laws, Romero said.

Rachel Heatley spoke in favor of the bill at a committee meeting on January 21, calling domestic violence a “secondary pandemic” brought on by the isolation caused by COVID-19. Heatley is the Advocacy Director for the Humane Society of Utah.

“What we see here is a significant issue of interpersonal violence,” she said, referring to a Farmington man arrested last year for abusing several women and torturing animals belonging to them – including beheading a cat and waving the severed head around “to terrify her while he laughed”.

Abigail Benesh, a lawyer at the Humane Society, said there is a “significant correlation” between domestic violence, animal abuse, elder abuse and child abuse.

“Abusers often exploit the emotional attachments victims have with their pets,” she said. “It made them become pawns in this cruel game of coercion, manipulation and control to create an environment of fear and induced conformity.”

Residents – many of whom have been victims of domestic violence – also urged the committee to approve the bill. Inguinn Tersten said her teenage daughter has a brain condition and spinal cord injury, and they rely on a service dog to alert her if her daughter needs medical attention.

“My daughter’s service dog was used harshly to threaten us as we tried to get out of an abusive relationship,” Tersten said. “Every time we tried to go out, my ex controlled it with the dog. He knew we wouldn’t give up on the dog because of what the dog is doing for my daughter.

Jessica Gonzales said she had been in an abusive relationship where her boyfriend threatened to lock her dog outside in freezing temperatures if she didn’t come home. She eventually escaped, but said it took her weeks before she could testify before a grand jury in order to get her dog back.

“If a bill like this had existed, I probably would have left much sooner,” she said.

Representatives Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, were the only two “no” votes in the house. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the sponsor is Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.

Humane Society Adoption Counselor Grace Jimenez holds a cat up for adoption at the Humane Society in Murray Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. HB175, being considered this year by the Utah Legislature, would allow people to include pets on personal protection orders.

Humane Society Adoption Counselor Grace Jimenez holds a cat up for adoption at the Humane Society in Murray Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. HB175, being considered this year by the Utah Legislature, would allow people to include pets on personal protection orders.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News