Abused DogDogs and other pets are too often drawn into domestic abuse situations and used as pawns to control spouses and domestic partners and many wound up hurt and even killed. Most and more states have been enacting protection orders that include pets. Here’s some great new from Tennessee that will help victims of domestic abuse, both the human and the animal.

Nearly a third of all violent crime in Chattanooga stems from domestic violence. In Hamilton County, half of all calls officers responded to in 2005 involved domestic violence.

In an effort to keep these crimes from turning tragic, a new law redefines the meaning of domestic abuse in Tennessee. The next time a 911 dispatcher receives a call about a possible domestic situation, authorities will check to see if the victim is human — or animal. Charlotte Boatwright, Chair of Chattanooga’s Domestic Violence Coalition says “its a fairly common thing, threatening pets is a favorite method of perpetrators of abuse.”

Recognizing abusers control their victims by threatening what they love, Tennessee lawmakers just changed the definition of domestic abuse to include inflicting or attempting to inflict injury to a pet. Guy Bilyeu, Executive Director of the Hamilton County Humane Education Society, says “it’s a practice stage where you can do something to something else and not pay consequences, now there are consequences.”

The new law also makes threatening to harm a pet during a domestic dispute — a crime. Boatwright says “expressions I hear are ‘i’ll put the cat in the microwave or i’ll poison your dog if you try to leave me.”

Those who work first hand with abuse victims say many return to a dangerous relationship just to keep their pets alive. Bilyeu says “there’s a case in the courts right now that’s very sad where a person abused these poor animals and the wife finally left and she got someone to go back and check on her animals and one was dead and the others severely emaciated.”

Advocates say too, abusers will threaten an animal, and follow through later, claiming the pet died in an accident.

Hoping to take animals out of the equation when victims decide to leave, the humane society runs a “free to leave” program housing pets of domestic abuse victims. Dogs and cats can be held for free, up to a month. Additional shelters at area veterinary offices may be lined up in the near future.

The new law also requires the court to remove jointly owned pets from the home of domestic situations and place them in animal foster care or with the victim. (WDEF News 12)

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