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(TRENTON) – A measure sponsored by Assembly members Connie Wagner and Reed Gusciora to protect pets during domestic disputes was approved by a vote of 71-0 by the full Assembly on Monday.

“We’ve heard so many stories of pets being abused or even killed as retaliation against a partner when a relationship goes sour,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Often times it’s done without thinking as an attempt to hurt the other partner, but whether it’s intentional or not, animals should not have to suffer. This is a humane measure designed to protect innocent pets from being the victim of a domestic dispute.”

“For many pet owners, a pet is a member of their family. To harm or even kill a defenseless pet simply to get back at a partner is cowardly and cruel,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer). “No animal deserves to be mistreated or abused, especially out of revenge. This will protect pets caught in the middle of a domestic dispute from potentially dangerous situations.”

The bill (A-1633) would authorize the courts to issue orders protecting animals in situations where a person abuses or threatens to abuse an animal as part of a domestic dispute. Animals are not directly addressed in New Jersey’s current domestic violence law.

Under the bill, the court may issue an order prohibiting a defendant charged with a crime or offense involving domestic violence, who is released from custody before trial on bail or personal recognizance, from having any contact with any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party, or a minor child residing in the household.

The bill also allows the court to mandate who will have possession of the animal, and that the animal not be disposed of before the final disposition of the crime or offense.

In addition, the bill would allow the court to issue, as part of a restraining order, an order directing who should have possession of the animal, and mandating that the animal not be disposed of before a final restraining order is issued. Lastly, the bill would amend the statute governing final restraining orders to direct who should have possession of the animal. There would be a presumption that the animal would be awarded to the non-abusive party.

The bill is modeled on a recently enacted Maine law. Currently, animals are not directly addressed by domestic violence law in New Jersey.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.