Maybe the most common question asked of people who find themselves stuck in an abusive relationships is “Why don’t you just leave?” The answer to that question is, of course, enormously complicated. Consider that any break-up can be a complicated affair as it requires to people to disentangle their lives and figure out what to do with shared assets like a house or a bank account. It’s rarely simple to “just leave,” and in abusive relationships, threats of violence or harm are a major concern. And those threats are often targeted at a beloved house pet (according to Austin’s SafePlace shelter, 71% of of people who leave domestic abuse situations report threats to animals).
But now in Texas, a person who is seeking a restraining order from the court can include his or her pets in the request. That’s not an insignificant detail, as Patt Nordyke of the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies explains in this story from Austin’s KUT News—though lawmakers initially had to be convinced that was the case.
“It’s difficult to get animal bills passed in the legislature,” Nordyke says. “I had an aide say ‘Oh, yeah, I read this, it said pets,’ in a dismissive manner. We had a cheat sheet with us and I said, ‘Read the bottom line to me,’ and the bottom line said, ‘This bill says pets in protective orders, but it also protects people.'”
Nordyke says it protects people by removing barriers that keep a domestic violence victim from leaving an abusive situation. She says abusers will often threaten the lives of pets in order to keep their victims close.
Laws regarding pets can be tricky. Pet theft laws can be used by people in ordinary break-ups to involve the police in personal situations, but it’s hard to find fault with this one. As the Internet reminds us again and again and again, we love our animals, and in situations where the court already finds it necessary to grant a protective order, including a cat or a dog (or a goldfish or a pig) in that order makes a lot of sense.
According to KUT, the next step for Nordyke and the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies is to establish a network of support for pet-owners who take their animals with them as they leave a bad situation—but most facilities aren’t equipped to take in house pets. The SafePlace shelter runs a foster program that allows people to place their animals in a safe environment while they’re living in the shelter, and that sort of program is something that Nordyke hopes to see expanded elsewhere:
[T]he work isn’t over for the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies. Nordyke says they’re now working to make sure animals that are removed with their owners from abusive situations have a safe place to go.
They’re working to put together a database of animal shelters and foster families across the state that are willing to help.
“So that once a family leaves and they contact us we can say ‘Okay, there’s a shelter here that will take your animals.’”