A bill to protect pets from domestic violence assault has passed the Utah House of Representatives.
After the House adopted HB175 by a 69-2 vote on Friday, the Utah Legislature is one step closer to permitting dogs to be included in personal protective orders.
71 percent of women in domestic violence shelters report their abusers threatened, maimed, or killed their dogs "as a way of control," according to sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. She claims that 25% of survivors return to their abusers because they have been threatened with their pet.
People often wonder why I oversee sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking legislation, and I believe I do it because someone needs to speak up, according to Romero. And, at this time of COVID, many people are in extremely vulnerable situations. I want to make sure that we continue to say, "We see you," and that they receive the assistance they require, as well as the protection they and their children and pets deserve.
Domestic violence cases increased by 8.1 percent in the first year of the pandemic, according to a report released in 2021 by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. According to the survey, isolation, job loss, and the responsibilities of child care and homeschooling may have contributed to the rise.
Last Monday, the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously in support of HB175, with all current committee members voting yes. Whether the pet belongs to the victim or the abuser, the bill allows persons to ask the court to include pets in a personal protective order or stalking injunction.
According to Romero, the bill would bring Utah into line with 35 other states that have comparable rules.
During a committee meeting on Jan. 21, Rachel Heatley argued in favor of the bill, calling domestic violence a "secondary pandemic" caused by COVID-19's isolation. Heatley is the Humane Society of Utah's advocacy director.
What we have here is a big problem of interpersonal violence, she added, citing a Farmington man convicted last year for beating numerous women and torturing their animals, including decapitating a cat and parading the severed head around "to terrorize her while he smiled.
Domestic abuse, animal abuse, elder abuse, and child abuse all have a "strong link," according to Abigail Benesh, an attorney with the Humane Society.
Abusers frequently take advantage of victims' emotional relationships to their pets," she said. As a result, they've become pawns in this vicious game of compulsion, manipulation, and control aimed at inducing fear and submission.
Residents pushed the committee to adopt the bill, many of whom had been victims of domestic abuse. Inguinn Tersten's adolescent daughter has a brain ailment and a spinal cord injury, and she and her family rely on a service dog to notify them if she requires medical help.
As we were trying to break free from an abusive relationship, my daughter's assistance dog was aggressively used to threaten us, Tersten stated. Every time we tried to escape out, my ex would use the dog to keep us in line. Because of what the dog does for my daughter, he knew we wouldn't leave him behind.
Jessica Gonzales claimed she was in an abusive relationship in which her partner threatened to leave her dog outside in the cold if she didn't return home. She was eventually able to flee, but it took weeks for her to be able to testify before a grand jury in order to reclaim her dog.
Had a bill like this existed, I would have probably left a lot sooner, she added.
The only two "no" votes in the house came from Reps. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville. Senator David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, is the bill's floor sponsor in the Senate.