Legislature Approves Bill that Protects Pets

Published 9:35 pm Thursday, March 17, 2022

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Legislature has approved a bill that would protect domestic animals caught in the crossfire of an abusive relationship within couples.
Bill’s primary sponsor is Ryan Dotson, R-Clark, 73rd District, who gave a speech to his colleagues about House Bill 319 earlier this week.

Bill passed 95-0 that seeks to penalize violence against an animal when the pet is harmed during coercive conduct characterized as “domestic violence and abuse.” Bill allows a judge to award possession of a shared domestic animal to the petitioner, who may be the victim in such encounters.

“The abuse or killing of a beloved pet inflicts significant harm upon the human victim and serves as a highly effective method of establishing control and forcing the victim to comply with the abuser’s demands,” said Dotson, the bill’s primary sponsor. “To the abuser, the importance of the pet is limited to how it can be used to inflict harm upon the human. The human victim is the ultimate target of the pet abuse even though the animal may be the one initially suffering physical harm.”

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Dotson continued, “Victims have described the fear, the terror, their anguish and despair at witnessing their partner or caretaker abuse and torture their beloved cat or dog in front of their eyes.”

Senate’s version of the bill, SB 125, was approved about two weeks ago.
“There were changes made to the bill that alleviated some of the concerns of sportsmen,” said Senator Ralph Alvarado, R-Clark, District 28. “I voted for the bill, but was not a co-sponsor. My understanding is that the bill is currently limited to domesticated pets (cats, dogs, ferrets, etc) and has excluded certain livestock. I believe it will help limit the abuses we often hear about or witness. It will also make it easier for those animals to be rescued and treated when discovered. I believe Kentucky ranks amongst the worst states for animal abuse in the country.”

Dotson said the victims of abuse frequently speak of how their concern for the pet obstructs their ability to leave. He said 85 percent of victims who finally escape and seek refuge in shelters say there was ongoing abuse in their homes.

“Because domestic violence shelters typically do not accept animals, a departing victim may have to leave their pet behind,” Dotson said. “By doing so, those pets are vulnerable to the ongoing abuse — abuse that usually forces the human victim to return just to pick up their pet.”

Dotson said often there is a close relationship between victims and their pets that is not necessarily driven purely by affection, but is fostered by a shared sense of empathy and mutual feeling.

“While the emotional bond allows for the exploitation in the first place, the abuse itself may foster an even closer relationship between the victim and the animal and so the cycle continues,” he said. “Pets are exceptionally vulnerable, both physically and in terms of their treatment under Kentucky law. This vulnerability complements the power of the abuser. Threats or harm to pets can be used to control or coerce a vulnerable human only to the extent that the victim cares about the animal. “