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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes two bills to protect families, pets from domestic abuse

April 25, 2023

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Tuesday passed the first two pieces of a three-part legislation package that collectively seeks to weave animal welfare into the state’s existing protections against domestic violence.

First introduced in late March, all three bills build on a significant body of research that shows a link between animal cruelty and domestic violence against family members. For instance, one study found that 75% of abused women who have a companion animal reported a history of that pet being threatened or intentionally harmed by their intimate partner. Another found that 60% of people who reported witnessing or committing animal cruelty as a child as reported child mistreatment or domestic abuse in their homes.

The Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 70, which would add several actions against a person’s companion animal or service animal to the definition of abuse for protection from abuse (PFA) proceedings, including engaging in cruelty, inflicting physical injury, and engaging in a course of alarming or distressing conduct.

“I want to thank my Senate colleagues for recognizing that our pets are members of our family who too often get caught in the middle of family disputes and used as tools of manipulation or abuse,” said prime sponsor Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “This legislation will give Family Court the authority to treat animal violence as a red flag in a protection-from-abuse case and help keep family pets away from abusers.”

SB 70 also would provide Family Court the authority to include provisions in a protection from abuse order that grant a petitioner exclusive care, custody, or control of a companion animal and order a petitioner to stay away from the companion animal.

According to the Animal Welfare Center, 37 states currently provide for pets to be included in protection from abuse orders.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 71 to require law enforcement agencies, the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, and the Department of Justice to report suspected animal cruelty to the Office of Animal Welfare that is discovered while performing their responsibilities in child welfare cases.

“Injuring an animal is often a precursor to violence against a child, spouse, or intimate partner,” said prime sponsor Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown. “Social workers and caseworkers can play key roles in cross-reporting animal abuse and human violence. The legislation passed by the Senate today will direct enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for warning signs that may indicate future abuse and report it to the Office of Animal Welfare.”

SB 71 also would provide immunity to people who in good faith, report suspected animal cruelty.

Both SB 70 and SB 71 now head to the House for final consideration.

The third bill in the package – House Bill 95 sponsored by Rep. Krista Griffith– would require Family Court to award possession and provide for the care of companion animals when dividing marital property after considering the wellbeing of the companion animal. The court would be able to consider each person’s ability to care for the animal, the pet’s attachment to each person, and how much time and effort each person spent tending to the animal’s needs.

Under HB 95, once a petition for divorce or annulment has been filed, a companion animal could not be transferred, concealed, disposed of, or spayed or neutered without the written agreement of both parties.

HB 95 is slated to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on April 26.

“Experts have been studying the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. An animal being abused in the home is a red flag that other violence is likely to be occurring on a child or partner,” said Rep. Krista Griffith, the lead House sponsor on both Senate bills. “These bills collectively recognize the importance that pets have on our lives and the link between abuse of a pet and violence against a family member. By protecting animals, we also will be protecting people who are vulnerable to serious injury and even death by a perpetrator of domestic violence. These bills are important steps toward that goal.”