DALLAS (AP) — Protective orders that prevent an abuser from hurting, threatening or harassing a person will soon be extended to pets thanks to a Texas law taking effect this summer.
The law was designed to help when someone abuses or threatens to abuse an animal to intimidate or coerce a victim. While a first offense would be a misdemeanor, two or more offenses would bump the crime up to a third-degree felony, The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday.
"It's really not about overzealously being protective of pets in Texas," said Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat who wrote the legislation that Gov. Rick Perry recently signed into law. "It's about protecting women who are battered."
When the law takes effect Sept. 1, Texas will join about a dozen other states that have extended protective orders to pets.
"Everybody that has pets is very passionate and loves their pets," so an abuser will use that passion against the victim as a show of power and control, said Dallas police Lt. Scott Walton, interim division manager of Dallas Animal Services.
According to the American Humane Association, 71 percent of pet-owning women entering shelters reported that their abuser had injured, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control them.
Mary Silman of Arlington, who endured prolonged physical and psychological abuse, recalled the traumatic beating of a pet dog she loved.
"My husband just started beating up the dog with his fists ... trying to crack its ribs," the 56-year-old woman said. "It was yelping. I couldn't do anything or say anything because I was too scared ... that he was going to do that to me."
Silman said an abuser will keep a victim's pet or kill it out of spite, and "no innocent animal needs to be caught up in that."
Advocates say victims may be more inclined to seek help if they don't have to worry about their pet's safety.
But some people who run shelters say the new law might pose new challenges for animal and domestic abuse shelters. For instance, some people staying at shelters are allergic to animals, and several shelters lack the space needed to even house pets.
The Family Place in Dallas encourages victims to contact a friend to house the pet or to call animal and domestic abuse shelters to discuss possible solutions.
People increasingly are also using social networks such as Facebook and Craigslist to find foster homes for pets.