Bill would protect pets in domestic abuse cases

DES MOINES – Decades after escaping an abusive relative, Adrienne Smith still feels shaken by the beatings that were also endured by her cats and dogs.

Smith, of Jefferson, said her abuser tried to hurt her by lashing out at her pets, and she asked Iowa lawmakers to approve a measure aimed at protecting animals.

“I have witnessed animal abuse first hand and let me tell you it scars your soul when you see it firsthand,” said Smith, 56.

At the urging of Smith, Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, has introduced a bill that would allow victims of domestic violence to include their pets under a protective order against their abuser. If approved, victims or someone representing a minor child who claims ownership of an animal could include household pets on a civil protective order, making it illegal for an abuser to be in contact with the animal.

“It’s a way of protecting a pet but more importantly, I think, it’s a way of further protecting the victim,” Beall said.

A subcommittee held its first hearing on the proposal last week.

Both Democrats on the three-member subcommittee support the proposal.

Republican Sen. Kent Sorenson, of Milo, said his only concern is to define a pet to ensure protections don’t extend to livestock.

“I don’t really have an issue with the bill itself,” Sorenson said.

Others in law enforcement and advocates for domestic violence said they didn’t oppose the bill, but consider it a low priority.

Polk County Assistant Attorney Mike Salver said the bill seems to make an odd distinction in civil domestic abuse law. Whereas Iowa law considers pets to be property, the bill partially humanizes them.

“This bill is almost elevating a pet out of the realm of property and into a realm of a dependent thing, like a child,” he said.

In a telephone interview, Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, questioned the value of the measure, asking “is this what the court should be spending its time doing?”

Laurie Schipper, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said her group hasn’t made the pet bill a priority but understand why the issue is so important to some victims.

“It’s a great concern for victims,” Schipper said. “Pets are important to victims who feel a lot of responsibility and guilt for leaving their homes with their pets unprotected.”