[pet project]
Furry Friends
USD students campaign for four-legged victims of domestic violence
by Kelly Knufken

If a bill winding its way through the California Legislature makes it to law, domestic violence victims will have some USD students to thank for their advocacy of a provision adding another layer of protection for pets.

Senate Bill 353 would provide space on a restraining order to prevent abusers from harming or threatening animals as they try to control a partner or child.

“It makes a lot of sense,” says Sarah Speed, a third-year law student. “It makes it easier for the victim to get away from her abuser.”

Speed had been working on such a bill with the national Humane Society and the ASPCA when she hooked up with a group of students from a School of Leadership and Education Sciences nonprofit advocacy class who were coincidentally working on the same issue.

One of those students, Carolyn Smyth, comes to the issue as an advocate for domestic violence victims who responds to cases where police are called in.

“I had noticed that a lot of my victims had pets and were afraid to leave the situation, or had delayed calling, because they were worried about what to do with their pets,” says Smyth, who has fostered the pet of a domestic violence victim.

Studies bear out their fear. One survey by the Humane Society of the United States found that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering shelters talked about incidents of pet abuse.

Speed, along with Smyth and fellow SOLES students Gretchen Pelletier, Darla Trapp and Renee Scherr, researched the issue, built a coalition of domestic violence providers and animal rights groups, and found a sponsor in Sen. Sheila Keuhl.

Speed testified before a state Senate committee in March. The bill passed that committee vote 3-0. It was expected to reach the full Senate for discussion soon.

“I definitely understand the ability to connect so closely with your animal that you would fear for their safety,” says Smyth. “It’s very complex, and it’s a very dangerous time for victims.