(Toledo News Now) - Having no choice but to leave your pet in the hands of an abuser is a reality for many domestic violence victims – but not anymore. New Ohio legislature will allow courts to consider pets when crafting a domestic violence order. WTOL got this exclusive story from the courts.
Effective Monday, courts that handle domestic violence cases, like the Domestic Relations Division of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, can order a party not to harm or dispose of a pet, as well as award a pet to a petitioner.
“The idea of this is then if they come to court, we can say, 'you take the pet with you,' or we can order the abuser not to harm the pet,” said Judge David Lewandowski.
For domestic violence advocates, the legislation is a victory for victims.
“We do get a lot of concerns from our victims about, ‘What do I do with my animal? I can't leave them behind.' So it's a common concern,” said Deidra Lashley, executive director at Bethany House. “Having that protection over the animal is going to be powerful for victims.”
It will be especially important in some cases.
“I heard a case, basically, where the petitioner was being threatened by the respondent who was abusive. She actually fled her home, went somewhere else out of town to get away from him and while she was away, this woman received hundreds of messages, texts, [saying] ‘I'm going to kill your dog. I'm going to burn your house down,' and sure enough, he did both,” said Judge Lisa McGowan. “She came home to find her house had burned down with her dog in the home. So this legislation is important because these abusers do threaten animals and it is a way to get back at the victim and sometimes the children. In a lot of cases where the parties don't have children, your animals are like your child. So it is a real threat, and it does happen.”
In the new legislature, the “companion animal” is defined as any non-farm animal. It's aimed at correcting abusers who try to harm or control the other party by making threats against a family pet.
“With public awareness that this is possible, we'll get more of those kinds of cases,” said Judge Lewandowski.
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