“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” must have been the mantra for legislators in two states that recently made gains for animal and human victims of abuse. South Dakota finally shed its identity as the only state without felony cruelty provisions when Governor Dennis Daugaard signed SB 46. The new law makes it a felony “to intentionally, willfully, and maliciously inflict gross physical abuse on an animal that causes prolonged pain, that causes serious physical injury, or that results in the death of the animal.” With this new law, South Dakota also becomes the 41st state to make cockfighting a felony. The fact that all sectors in South Dakota, including opponents of past bills, were able to come together around SB 46 reflects the growing consensus that egregious acts of animal cruelty must be treated as the serious crimes that they are, and that the perpetrators of such crimes must be punished accordingly. There is more work to be done in this area, however, since some abusers still get off with mere slaps on the wrist.
In another positive move, Virginia becomes the 24th state, in addition to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, with a law allowing judges to include companion animals in protection orders for victims of domestic violence. These laws address a major obstacle to individuals leaving abusive situations: fear over what may happen to their companion animals. Abusers often harm, kill, or threaten to harm/kill a beloved pet as a way to intimidate and control their victims. In one survey, over 70 percent of battered women reported that their pets had been threatened, hurt, or killed by their partners. In some jurisdictions, judges have been reluctant to include companion animals without specific authority. Under the new Virginia law, the person for whom the order is issued must meet the definition of “owner” already in the law. Visit awionline.org/safetyplanning for advice on safety planning for pets.