Redefining Domestic Abuse: New Law Adds Animals
In an effort to keep these crimes from turning tragic, a new law redefines the meaning of domestic abuse in Tennessee. The next time a 911 dispatcher receives a call about a possible domestic situation, authorities will check to see if the victim is human -- or animal. Charlotte Boatwright, Chair of Chattanooga's Domestic Violence Coalition says "its a fairly common thing, threatening pets is a favorite method of perpetrators of abuse."
Recognizing abusers control their victims by threatening what they love, Tennessee lawmakers just changed the definition of domestic abuse to include inflicting or attempting to inflict injury to a pet. Guy Bilyeu, Executive Director of the Hamilton County Humane Education Society, says "it's a practice stage where you can do something to something else and not pay consequences, now there are consequences."
The new law also makes threatening to harm a pet during a domestic dispute -- a crime. Boatwright says "expressions I hear are 'i'll put the cat in the microwave or i'll poison your dog if you try to leave me."
Those who work first hand with abuse victims say many return to a dangerous relationship just to keep their pets alive. Bilyeu says "there's a case in the courts right now that's very sad where a person abused these poor animals and the wife finally left and she got someone to go back and check on her animals and one was dead and the others severely emaciated."
Advocates say too, abusers will threaten an animal, and follow through later, claiming the pet died in an accident.
Hoping to take animals out of the equation when victims decide to leave, the humane society runs a "free to leave" program housing pets of domestic abuse victims. Dogs and cats can be held for free, up to a month. Additional shelters at area veterinary offices may be lined up in the near future.
The new law also requires the court to remove jointly owned pets from the home of domestic situations and place them in animal foster care or with the victim.
PUBLIC CHAPTER NO. 352
HOUSE BILL NO. 1161
By Representatives Sontany, Sherry Jones, Mike Turner, Casada
Substituted for: Senate Bill No. 196
By Senators Burchett, Burks, Marrero, Raymond Finney
AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 36, Chapter 3, Part
6, relative to domestic abuse.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 36-3-601(1), is amended by deleting the language "or malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party;" and by substituting instead the following language: malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party, including inflicting, or attempting to inflict, physical injury on any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by an adult or minor, or placing an adult or minor in fear of physical harm to any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by such adult or minor;
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 36-3-606(a), is amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated subdivision:
( ) Directing the care, custody, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either party or a minor residing in the household. In no instance shall such animal be placed in the care, custody, or control of the respondent but shall instead be placed in the care, custody or control of the petitioner or in an appropriate animal foster situation;
SECTION 3. For the purpose of changing any forms necessary to implement the provisions of this act, this act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it. For all other purposes, it shall take effect on July 1, 2007, the public welfare requiring