Bill would extend protections to pets of domestic violence victi - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Bill would extend protections to pets of domestic violence victims

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MADISON (WKOW) -- State lawmakers are considering a bill that would extend protections to pets of domestic violence victims.

The bill would allow victims to seek a retraining order that not only would protect them but also block threats or abuse against their companion animals. A public hearing is scheduled Thursday on this topic. 

Experts say 80 percent of victims in Wisconsin reported their abusers also threatened or killed their pets and nearly half said they were too afraid to leave their abuser because they were concerned about the safety of their animals. 

"We hear from victims all the time that stay in harms way because they're protecting loved ones and people often don't think about it but that includes their pets and batterers know that," says Megan Senatori, president and co-founder of Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims, or SAAV. "Batterers often take a pet and really use it as a tool of abuse and target the animals in order to keep the victim silent, make the victim stay in the relationship, to try to demonstrate power and control over the victim."

SAAV is a foster program that works with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, known as DAIS, in Dane County. If someone seeking shelter at DAIS has concerns about their pet's safety, they can enroll their pet in SAAV and a foster family will care for the animal until the victim can establish a safe, new living situation.

Senatori tells 27 News Maine was the first state to pass a law with protections for pets in 2006. Efforts to put forward a similar bill in Wisconsin around that time failed but she says it's more likely to pass now with nearly 30 other states taking the lead with similar laws.

Democratic State Senator Tim Carpenter introduced the bill and says it had instant, bipartisan support. Carpenter says he's confident it'll pass and he plans to work with judges and advocacy groups to get the ball rolling. 

"The concern we have is we don't have it formally in the statutes when you go for a domestic abuse restraining order and some judges bring it up and are willing to address the issues some other say it's not here in the statutes, so we just wanted to make it clear," Carpenter tells 27 News.

Shannon Barry, executive director of DAIS, says each piece of legislation focused on empowering victims of domestic violence is a step in the right direction.

"Anything we can to do help remove barriers for victims to reach out for services I think is a step in the right direction," Barry tells 27 News. "If someone is making a decision to stay in a relationship because they don't want to leave their animal behind, that can really increase their danger, so if we can give them options to find safety for that animal so that they feel like they can further their own safety, that's a good thing."

The Wisconsin efforts come at the same time as a federal bill addressing similar issues. The Pet and Women Safety Act, presented to Congress in March, extends federal restraining order protections to pets of victims and establishes a fund through the Department of Agriculture to provide grants to organizations like SAAV.

Senatori tells 27 News federal money could help more organizations form like SAAV in Wisconsin. Right now, there is a similar group working out of Milwaukee but not enough programs to help all victims in need across the state.

Lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety will hear public testimony on the Wisconsin restraining order bill starting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the State Capitol. Advocates expect a good turnout, with victims telling their stories.

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