Sappey domestic violence bill to protect pets passes House

HARRISBURG, July 7 – Rep. Christina Sappey is recognizing the passage of her legislation (H.B. 1210) an animal protection bill introduced with Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, that would expand protection from abuse orders to include animals and house pets, ensuring the safety and well-being of both domestic violence victims and their beloved animal companions.

Tragically, abusers often target pets to inflict emotional harm after a domestic violence victim has obtained a PFA order. PFA orders are filed with a judge and are designed to prevent an abuser from having contact with or any form of abusive behavior toward the victim. Extensive research has shown that when an individual is no longer able to inflict violence or abuse on their victim due to a PFA, they often turn their violent behavior on vulnerable family pets, which further traumatizes victims who are frequently women and children.

"Pets are family members and play an essential role in offering comfort to individuals experiencing abuse,” said Sappey, D-Chester. “It is imperative that we take action to safeguard animals in conjunction with the well-being of those suffering from domestic violence. I’m pleased to see the bipartisan support this legislation has received.”

Since its introduction, the legislation has garnered the support of over 70 law enforcement, domestic violence and animal advocacy organizations. Sappey said the widespread backing of the legislation signifies this very real aspect of domestic violence and the need for enhanced protections.

Mihalek reiterated the importance of protecting pets amid domestic violence disputes.

“The decision to leave an abusive environment is difficult enough. Making certain that a pet can live free from abuse needs to be part of the PFA system, so it doesn’t further complicate the victim’s decision and also safeguards a loyal part of the family,” Mihalek said. “I want to thank Representative Sappey for working with me on this and seeing it as high as a priority as I do.”

Members of the Humane Society signaled their support for H.B. 1210.

“We urge the PA Senate to support H.B. 1210, recently passed by the House, which would help protect both people and animals from abuse,” said Kristen Tullo, Humane Society of the United States Pennsylvania state director. “Victims of domestic abuse often delay leaving an abusive situation because they fear the abuser will harm their animals. By permitting the inclusion of pets within a protection order, H.B. 1210 would make it easier for victims to leave a dangerous situation with their entire family, including their pets."

Natalie Ahwesh, executive director of Humane Action Pittsburgh, also expressed support for the bill.

“This bill is a commonsense, bipartisan issue,” Ahwesh said. “Abusers often use family pets as leverage in their torment of their victims, threatening to harm or kill them if victims leave. With this bill, we can protect both animals and humans.”

Sappey said H.B. 1210 was crafted with comprehensive stakeholder input over several years, and is a bipartisan approach to ending violence toward vulnerable Pennsylvanians and their animals.

The legislation now moves to the state Senate for consideration.