A proposal being debated by Louisville Metro Council would require police and animal services officers to work together more closely in an effort to better identify cases of domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty.
The proposed ordinance would require Metro Animal Services officers investigating a case of animal abuse to determine if there is “a reasonable suspicion of interpersonal violence” within the home. The animal services officer would then have to notify the Louisville Metro Police Department and Child Protective Services if they suspect there is domestic violence, or if further investigation is needed. District 7 Democratic Council Member Paula McCraney and District 18 Council Member Marilyn Parker, a Republican, are sponsoring the bipartisan ordinance.
Joy Keeley, a retired LMPD officer and founder of the Kentucky Link Coalition, helped draft the ordinance. She said decades of investigation and research has found a link between animal abuse and domestic violence.
“It should be considered a red flag,” Keeley said. “You can certainly have a neglected dog outside and everything is fine inside, but you need to see if that’s the case or not.”
Keeley said cross-reporting between agencies addressing different types of violence in the home will make sure no victim is left behind, regardless of their species.
“It’s essential to have government agencies talking to each other,” Keeley said. “What you have with animal abuse and domestic violence in the state of Kentucky, you have a silo effect where the information is going up but it’s not going out.”
Supporters of the ordinance cite numerous studies that back up this potential link.
A 2018 study by the FBI Behavioral Science Unit found 60% of people charged with animal cruelty had also been arrested for violence against another person. And a study from the late 90s of women who sought shelter at a safe house found that 71% of women who had a companion animal said their partner had threatened, injured or killed their pets.
Courtney Brown, a community projects manager at the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection, said research shows that abuse within the home can present in many different ways. But Brown also warned against a one-size-fits all response to abuse, saying research suggests there are many causes, from a perpetrator’s need for power to social issues like poverty, lack of education and mental health.
“If we are looking at cases of domestic violence we also want to make sure we are looking at animals that might be living in the home, but we also want to make sure we’re responding in such a way that isn’t exacerbating social issues,” she said.
The Colorado LINK Project, which is associated with the Institute, recommends various treatment options as alternatives to incarceration in some cases. They include community supervision, specialized mental health treatment and restricting access to animals.
In addition to new reporting requirements, the proposed ordinance also includes a new program for removing an animal from a dangerous situation and heightened penalties for people that commit animal abuse in the presence of a child.
Animal abuse in the presence of a minor would now be a Class A misdemeanor in Jefferson County punishable by a $500 fine and imprisonment up to a year.
Metro Animal Services would be required to board pets free of charge when a victim of domestic violence is seeking safe housing. Victims would have up to 90 days to reclaim the animals, after which time the animal could be put up for adoption.
Keeley said Kentucky currently allows for a pet to be listed on the emergency protective order in a domestic violence situation, but clerks are not required to tell victims that.
“By protecting the animal, you’re protecting the person from coercive tactics to come back to that abuser, and that’s exactly what they’re used for,” Keeley said.
The ordinance also mandates new training for police and animal services officers, although it’s currently unclear how frequent those trainings will be.
As the proposal is currently written, all LMPD officers would have to do a four to eight-hour course on the link between animal abuse and violence toward people. The course would also be incorporated into basic training for recruits and state-mandated trainings conducted twice a year. Animal services officers would have to take the course every year.
LMPD and Metro Animal Services would have one year to create the course.
Some Metro Council members, however, have expressed concerns about training taking up too much of public safety officials’ time.
At the Public Safety Committee meeting, District 23 Council Member James Peden said he was concerned about trainings becoming “onerous.” Peden is a former firefighter with the Highview Fire Department.
“After years of being in the emergency services, every time a politician adds on something that has got to be done annually it all sounds great when it’s only four hours, but by the time you add up every one of them it’s 400 hours,” Peden said.
The ordinance could be amended.
The proposed ordinance will get another public hearing at the next Public Safety Committee meeting on Oct. 6. If the committee approves it, the full Metro Council could vote on the ordinance as soon as Oct. 14.