Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for July 19, 2006

Okay...I confess that yesterday's posting of "No CAT Left Behind" was done in a cavalier, "tongue-in-cheek" mood. However, after reading the article below, I am reminded that none of this is a laughing matter.

From the Southern Illinoisan...

Proposed law would offer legal protection to pets

By RYAN KEITH, The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD - Names like Fluffy, Chipper and Princess could start showing up in official orders of protection under a lawmaker's plan to help pets caught in the middle of their owners' abusive relationships.

Letting the courts intervene would not only protect the animals, but also remove one of the worries that sometimes make pet owners reluctant to walk out.

"Abusers will abuse an adult victim, they will abuse the children in the house, they will abuse the pets in the house to try to control the adult victim," said Jacqueline Ferguson, an associate director for the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "If there are pets around, it can be a problem."

The legislation is modeled on laws approved earlier this year in Maine and Vermont. It would allow judges to give custody of pets to abuse victims and order abusers to stay away from the animals.

Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, said he plans to push for passage in the November veto session.

"At first blush, it's an issue that can strike somebody as frivolous," Fritchey said. "It's a real issue. ... We have a responsibility to take the action where we see an issue."

It has the support of activists who battle both domestic violence and animal abuse.

Advocates say the two kinds of violence are intertwined, although they acknowledge it's hard to know exactly when animal abuse is an outgrowth of domestic violence. They cite studies such as one from Utah State University that found more than 70 percent of women at an abuse shelter said their abusers had killed, harmed or threatened their pets.

Examples include a Maine woman whose husband killed her dog and sheep and, closer to home, a Belleville man who was sentenced to a year in jail in 2001 for stabbing a family puppy to death after an argument with his wife.

Advocates say the real danger stems from the emotional attachment to the pets, as women and children stay in abusive situations far too long because of the fear the abusers will take out their wrath on the pets.

"It is a huge problem," said Ledy VanKavage of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "These animals are used as pawns, and they need to be protected."

Advocates and legal experts say some judges already include pets in protective orders as personal property at lawyers' requests, but putting it in state law could be a more effective tool.

"I think that people don't think of pets as property," said Adrienne Albrecht, a Kankakee lawyer and family law expert for the Illinois State Bar Association. "It's not at the forefront of the judge's mind."

Some law enforcement groups aren't as enthusiastic.

Officials with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs Association say they haven't taken formal positions yet, but they say it will add more work for police officers and could make tense situations even more trying.

"It would be difficult for us to police," said Greg Sullivan of the sheriffs association. "Not that we are not pro-animal, but these situations are volatile enough without us going in and grabbing a family pet and making it more volatile."