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In August 2009, an Anne Arundel County man was sentenced to a maximum sentence of three years in prison for killing his girlfriend’s 3-month-old terrier puppy.  The Defendant, Donte W. McCreary, brutally killed the 4 pound dog in front of his girlfriend because, according to prosecutors, McCreary thought that she loved the dog more than him. This startling event was only one occurrence in the couple’s two year history of domestic violence. It is also a tragic, frightening reminder that the fear and abuse relating to domestic violence can harm adults, children and even family pets.

According to the Domestic Violence Pet Haven, more than 1 million pets of domestic violence victims and sexual assault victims are killed each year by the abusers and oftentimes in horrific ways. Many victims of domestic violence choose to stay with an abusive partner instead of leaving home and/or obtaining a protective order because they are afraid that the abuser will harm or kill their beloved pet. If an abused person chooses to obtain a protective order, they are often forced to leave a pet at home because most shelters do not accept pets and, until recently, Maryland Courts had no authority to award custody of an animal in a protective order.

If you are an animal lover like me, you know how pets have a unique ability to provide comfort and unconditional love when it is needed most. For families and particularly children that have been traumatized by domestic violence, pets often play an enormous role in providing a sense of security, normalcy and consolation.

For these reasons, I applaud the Maryland Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 747 which expands the domestic violence laws in Maryland to authorize the court to award temporary possession of any pet of a person eligible for a protective order. This change in the law will take effect October 1, 2011.

As an experienced Maryland domestic violence attorney, I would be glad to answer your questions about domestic violence laws or other areas of family law. Please do not hesitate to contact us by calling 301-563-6685.