Legislators discuss animals in domestic violence situations

JUNEAU — A state House committee heard testimony Monday on legislation spelling out protections for animals caught in domestic violence situations or in messy break-ups between couples.

The bill, which has been in development for a year, has drawn broad bipartisan support in the Alaska House with 13 legislators signing on as cosponsors after it was introduced. The bill is designed to give the state a framework to protect animals caught between their owners during messy breakups and in domestic violence situations.

It’s split into three sections: one that would amend state laws to require owners of animals that must be seized for neglect or cruelty to pay for cost of care; another that allows courts to enter domestic violence protective orders for pets and a third that would amend divorce laws to require the court to consider an animals’ well-being when determining ownership.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, is a family practice lawyer who sponsored and helped draft the bill. Gruenberg said he has had judges sign off on agreements on what to do with animals between divorcing couples. Now he and Rep. Liz Vazquez, R-Anchorage, are hoping to make those types of agreements a regular fixture in divorce courts.

Gruenberg spent most of Monday’s hearing fielding questions from legislators on specific provisions of the bill including how domestic violence protections could potentially backfire if either party could take a pet without the others’ consent. After the hearing, Gruenberg said the language of the bill could still be tweaked, including the potential addition of changes to the state’s animal abuse laws.

Animal shelters and domestic violence groups across Alaska support the bill, saying that it will help reduce the number of homeless, abandoned and neglected animals in the state.

“People who choose to commit acts of domestic violence use whatever they perceive as effective means of control to coerce the people they victimize. All too often, pet abuse is one of those means.” said Lauree Morton, executive director of Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. “They may threaten to harm or kill the pet. They may actually harm or kill the pet.”

Kathy Hessler, director of the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, said she that Alaska’s law, if passed, could be one of the first in the nation to directly address pet custody.

Hessler said pets currently fall under the division of property rules — like home furniture, monetary assets or vehicles — rather than being given custody arrangements.

“The requirement that (the courts) consider the animal’s wellbeing, I think that’s going to be unique,” Gruenberg said.

Many providing written testimony to the bill noted a link between abuse of animals and domestic assault. According to a 2004 report by Carlisle-Frank, Frank and Nielsen, which surveyed victims from seven domestic violence shelters in upstate New York, up to 48 percent of domestic violence victims reported they delayed leaving a dangerous situation because they feared for their pets’ safety. The report was published in the International Society for Anthrozoology magazine called Anthrozoos.

Myra Wilson, manager of Anchorage Animal Care and Control, presented data showing the city had paid more than $142,000 in veterinary and boarding costs for animals seized in animal cruelty investigations.

“As of now, the defendant in these cruelty cases bears no burden financially to support the care of the animals they are accused of harming,” Wilson wrote.

More in News

A parking sign awaits the new executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund at its Juneau headquarters, Three finalists will be interviewed for the job during a public meeting Monday by the fund’s board of trustees, who are expected to deliberate and announce the new director immediately afterward. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Interviews, selection of new Permanent Fund CEO set for Monday

Three finalists seeking to manage $73.7B fund to appear before trustees at public meeting in Juneau

Principal Sarge Truesdell looks at cracked siding outside of Soldotna High School on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. The siding is one of several projects in a bond package Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Split siding at SoHi

The damage has been given patchwork treatment over the years

Members of Kenai Central High School Esports gather around coach Shane Lopez before their League of Legends match Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Video gaming enters the arena

Kenai Central debuts esports team

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna man found dead in lake, troopers report

State Troopers were notified of a deceased person floating in Browns Lake

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID hospitalizations, cases down from last week

The state reported no new resident deaths from COVID-19 this week

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. building in Juneau is scheduled to be the site where the board of trustees will select a new executive director on Monday, following the investigation into the firing of former CEO Angela Rodell last December being presented to state lawmakers on Wednesday.
Investigators: Permanent Fund CEO’s firing legal but departed from policy

Trustees acted legally, despite not following official policy, and governor didn’t influence decision

A fishing boat passes the Silversea cruise ship Silver Wind as the boat enters the Homer Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Finding refuge

Silver Wind is one of two cruise ships to visit since pandemic.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates Dil Uhlin, left, and Jesse Bjorkman participate in a candidate forum at the Soldotna Public Library on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Both candidates are running for the assembly’s Nikiski seat. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski assembly candidates talk borough issues at final municipal election forum

There are three candidates running for the assembly’s District 3 - Nikiski seat

Kenai Middle School Principal Vaughn Dosko gestures toward a cart used to provide school lunch services on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Security concerns and lunch lines

Safety upgrades, more space sought at Kenai Middle

Most Read