Panzer, a six-year-old Labrador-mix, is the first pet to be granted domestic-violence protection under a progressive anti-cruelty law signed in August 2012 by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
The new law, which outlines a number of safe-pet ownership procedures, includes the provision for a restraining order requiring an abuser to stay away from four-legged family members, as well as adults and children.
Plymouth District Court Judge James Menno invoked the law to protect Panzer when a 38-year-old Marshfield woman sought a restraining order for herself and her son against her allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend and asked that her beloved dog be included.
The woman and her 2-year-old boy are currently staying in an undisclosed, out-of-state shelter, said Deni Michele Goldman, Marshfield’s animal control officer.
“(She) feared that her boyfriend might try to take the dog, and she stated that he had already kicked and dragged the dog in the past,” Goldman said.
“This new law allows a judge to award the possession of an animal to the victim and to prohibit the .accused from abusing, threatening or taking the pet,” said Goldman, who is also the spokeswoman for the Animal Control Officers Association of Massachusetts
“This was really good timing,” Goldman added. The woman filed for the domestic-violence restraining order in September, just weeks after the signing of the animal-protection bill that allows pets to be included.
Panzer is staying with a foster family. “I give her updates (about Panzer) by phone,” said Goldman. “And once she gets settled into a safe place, she will have her dog again.”
The Marshfield mother sought help from domestic violence advocates at the South Shore Women’s Resource Center, who worked with Goldman once they were alerted to the fact that the woman was also concerned about the safety of her dog, reports the Patriot Ledger.
Goldman described a 2009 case in Hull, MA, to illustrate the danger to pets trapped in domestic violence circumstances. In that tragic case, Goldman and the Animal Rescue League of Boston worked with Hull police to convict a man of animal cruelty after he killed his girlfriend’s two-month-old puppy. The abuser was found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail.
The 2012 comprehensive Massachussetts animal protection bill was sponsored by Senator Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville. The measure also instituted a statewide spay and neuter program and requires training for animal control officers.
“I am pleased to sign this legislation that strengthens and improves our animal control laws to better protect and care for our state’s animals,” stated Governor Patrick.
Panzer is the first pet to find a safety net under the new law but just one of the many pets caught in domestic violence situations. Goldman said that more than 70 percent of abused women report that their batterers have threatened to hurt or kill their pets and have tried to use such threats to coerce battered women into staying or refraining from calling the police or otherwise getting help.
According to Animal Legal and Historical Center, twenty-two (22) states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, to date (2012) have enacted legislation that include provisions for pets in Domestic Violence protection orders.