A Mission of Love
An Emotional Cause
"We had a difficult marriage. I had mood swings," her ex-husband admits today. "I had anger management. Lots of anger management."
As frightening as Walsh says her married life was, it helped jump-start a new era in animal safety. Research shows that domestic abusers are likely to threaten or harm family pets -- seemingly to frighten their partners into staying with them. In a 1997 study by Frank R. Ascione, PhD, a professor of psychology at Utah State University, 85 percent of domestic-violence shelters across the country reported their clients' pets had been abused. Also disturbing, Dr. Ascione noted that children traumatized by domestic violence were likely to hurt or kill animals, too.
In January 2006 Walsh told her story to the Maine state legislature, which was considering a bill that would allow judges in domestic-violence cases to issue protective orders not just for spouses and partners but for the first time to pets as well. The legislation also provided fines and eventual jail time for violators of such orders. The need to protect not just herself and her children, but also her animals, kept her locked in an abusive marriage, Walsh testified. "I might possibly have gotten my dogs out -- maybe even the cats. But I knew any animal I left behind would be dead within 24 hours," she explained.
Walsh's story helped trigger a legislative storm. In March 2006 Maine's governor signed the state's landmark pet-protection bill. Other states followed suit: New York and Vermont in 2006 and California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, and Tennessee in 2007. At press time similar bills were pending in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Walsh is proud of these results, even if she's humble about her role in the process. "We cannot, as a civilized society, allow perpetrators of animal abuse to keep their partners trapped in dangerous, unacceptable situations," Walsh told legislators.
As a volunteer at a domestic abuse counseling group where she was once a client, Walsh now fosters dogs and cats -- recently including a boxer and her puppies -- for women on the run.
Aiding other women and creating changes in the law have helped Walsh recover, but her pain is not yet over. "I still tear up when I talk about Katydid," she says. "But I was a woman on a mission. Testifying was the right thing to do."