Dog’s life saved thanks to new domestic violence law

A new Massachusetts law intended to protect pets in cases of domestic violence has saved the life of its first dog.

Panzer is the first dog to get protection as a victim of domestic violence.

If it weren’t for the new legislation, 6-year-old Labrador Retriever mix Panzer might have lost his life at the hands of his owner’s abusive boyfriend.

The law, which went into effect October 31, allows for Massachusetts courts to order the protection of an animal using existing statutes, the same statutes that already protect the pet’s owner under restraining orders and similar orders of protection. In other words, if a dog’s owner is the victim of domestic violence and he or she gets an order of protection against his or her abuser, the victim’s pets will also be safeguarded under that same order.

So when Panzer’s owner sought a restraining order against her violent boyfriend and contacted domestic violence advocates at the South Shore Women’s Resource Center, she knew, thanks to the protection bill that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) had just signed into law, her dog would be safe, giving her the confidence and reassurance to finally escape.

Spokesperson for the Animal Control Officers Association and current Marshfield, Massachusetts Animal Control Officer Deni Michele Goldman told The Patriot Ledger that Panzer’s owner not only feared for her life and the life of her 2-year-old son, but for the life of the dog that had been her best friend through thick and thin.

“[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 explained.

A week before Thanksgiving, Judge James Menno was able to grant Panzer protection under his owner’s restraining order. While his relieved owner and her son traveled to a shelter out of state, Panzer was transported to a loving foster home, where he will stay for the time being.

“I give her updates [about Panzer] by phone,” Goldman said, “and once she gets settled into a safe place, she will have her dog again.”

While Panzer’s story is on its way to a happy ending, many pets stuck in the middle of abusive relationships are not so lucky. Abusers often use their victims’ beloved dogs and cats as pawns in situations of domestic violence. Goldman points out a case involving a man who was recently convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 8-week-old puppy as one of many examples of how domestic violence can result in the injury or death of the victim’s pets.

While some shelters in the U.S. will allow women to bring their pets when escaping an abusive situation, many prohibit animals. And in states that do not yet have a plan in place for domestic violence victims’ four-legged friends, the consequences can be devastating.

Goldman explains that 70 percent of domestic violence victims report their abusive partner has threatened to hurt or to kill a pet in order to intimidate the victim. And The Sheltering Animals and Families Together Initiative reports that 48 percent of women end up delaying their escape or even staying with their abusive partners in order to protect the vulnerable pets they would have to leave behind.

According to information from the Michigan State University College of Law Animal Legal and Historical Center, with the enactment of this law, Massachusetts joins 22 other U.S. states (as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) in providing protection for pets who are stuck in the middle of violent relationships.

If you would like to take action to help protect the animal victims of senseless domestic violence, please contact your state officials and urge them to support laws that extend protection to pets.