Bill would expand protective orders to cover pets

Animal rights advocates and domestic violence prevention groups have united behind the bill. They say it will help prevent situations like the vicious beating of a pet dachshund that occurred in Gwinnett County last week. Dainley Green, accused of beating his family's pet dachshund in front of his children, was charged in the case.

The dog was still bleeding and had bloodshot eyes from being strangled when deputies arrived at the Lawrenceville home. Authorities were tipped off to the abuse when Green's wife filed for a temporary protective order.

"If you think about it in a domestic violence way, people are so attached to their pets now," said state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), who sponsored HB 429. "One way to really hurt the person you're trying to control is to go after the pet."

The bill, which made it out of a House committee last year but missed the deadline for crossover to the Senate, would let judges order an alleged abuser to refrain from harming family pets. It also would allow the judge to direct the care, custody or control of a pet. The law would not apply to livestock, working animals, laboratory animals or sport animals.

Cooper said the bill went back to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, where she will ask for it to be resurrected this year.

Batterers often use pets to control family members, domestic abuse experts say. According to a national survey of family violence shelters conducted by university researchers in 1997, 71 percent of victims reported that their abusers threatened, injured or killed the family pets.

Nicole Lesser, director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said securing protection for pets is a big issue in the field of domestic violence.

"I don't think you'll hear any opposition to that in the domestic violence world," Lesser said. "I've had many clients say, ‘If I can't take my dog, I can't leave.'"

The Ahimsa House is a Decatur-based nonprofit organization that takes in the pets of domestic violence victims, providing shelter for them in a network of foster homes and boarding facilities. The organization's president, Maya Gupta, said it has received 709 crisis calls and sheltered about 150 animals since 2007. A majority of the pets they see have injuries or illness resulting from neglect, Gupta said.

"It's such an under-recognized thing that people don't realize," Gupta said.

In issuing a protective order, courts can order a person to refrain from domestic violence, authorize a dangerous person to be evicted from a home or force them to provide housing elsewhere for a partner, and set up child and spousal support payments. Cooper's bill would allow pets to be included.

Eleven states have already passed similar pet-protection laws, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Chesta Drake, a retired school counselor who volunteers for the Humane Society, and others involved with the organization will be at the Capitol next week urging passage of Cooper's bill. She said what happened to the Green family's pet dachshund shows just how timely the legislation is.

"So many times animals are used just like this to threaten or control or horrify the family," Drake said.

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