Legislation to include pets in personal protective orders easily passed the House on Friday
The Utah Legislature is one step closer to allowing pets to be included in personal protective orders after the House approved HB175 by a 69-2 vote on Friday.
According to sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, 71% of women at domestic violence shelters say their abusers 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 run sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking legislation, and I think I do it because someone has to be that voice,” Romero said. “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 they get the help they need and they protect themselves, their children and their pets.”
A 2021 report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found the U.S. saw an 8.1% increase in domestic violence instances over the first year of the pandemic. Isolation, job loss and the stresses of child care and homeschooling may have contributed to the increase, according to the report.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee endorsed HB175 last week, with all present committee members voting in favor. The bill allows individuals to petition the court to include pets on a personal protective order or stalking injunction — whether the pet is owned by the victim or by the abuser.
The bill would have Utah join 35 other states with similar laws, Romero said.
Rachel Heatley spoke in support of the bill during a committee meeting on Jan. 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 problem of interpersonal violence,” she said, referencing a Farmington man who was arrested last year for abusing several women and torturing animals that belonged to them — including decapitating a cat and waving the severed head around “to terrify her while he laughed.”
Abigail Benesh, an attorney with the Humane Society, said there is a “significant correlation” between domestic abuse, animal abuse, elder abuse and child abuse.
“Abusers often exploit the emotional attachments that victims have with their pets,” she said. “That has them become pawns in this cruel game of coercion, manipulation and control in order to create an environment of fear and induced compliance.”
Residents — many of whom were victims of domestic abuse — also urged the committee to approve the bill. Inguinn Tersten said her teenage daughter has a brain disease 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 severely used to threaten us as we were trying to break out of an abusive relationship,” Tersten said. “Every time we tried to get out my ex would control it with the dog. He knew we wouldn’t leave the dog behind because of what the dog does for my daughter.”
Jessica Gonzales said she had been in an abusive relationship where her boyfriend would threaten to lock her dog outside in freezing temperatures if she didn’t come home. She eventually escaped, but said it took weeks before she was able to testify before a grand jury in order to get her dog back.
“If a bill like this would have existed, I probably would have left a lot sooner,” she said.
Reps. 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 floor sponsor is Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.