09/24/2007 10:41 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Creature Comforts and California Law

A high five -- or a low, furry-pawed four -- for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sheila James Kuehl, two names you don't often read together in the same context.

The California Republican governor signed a bill by the Democratic state Senator that allows criminal and family courts to include family pets in domestic violence protective orders.

People laughed at that renowned "National Lampoon'' cover, "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog,'' with a gun pointed at a dog's head.

But in the real world, this deliberate cruelty -- using the pet as a way to hurt or control the human victim -- is not remotely funny. The FBI links violence against animals as a predictor of violence against humans. Kuehl cited a 1997 survey of 50 of the nation's largest domestic violence shelters that concluded that 85% of women and 63% of children coming into the shelters mentioned pet abuse, and far more than half of the women looking for shelter from abusive partners say their family pets were threatened, hurt or killed.

"This legislation will prevent abusers from harming or threatening to harm animals in order to exert power and control over their human victims," said Kuehl.

Even if you don't care much about animals, you can appreciate that some domestic abuse victims stay in the house -- and put themselves and maybe their children in greater danger --because they have no place to take the pet, or they refuse to leave a defenseless creature to the ''mercy'' of the abuser, or both.

The Kuehl bill addresses part of the problem, but not all of it.

Police, district attorneys and animal welfare groups supported the bill, but the Oroville, California Mercury-Register reported that a local domestic violence shelter took no stand on the bill because of concerns that shelters can't house the imperiled pets.

It's a reasonable issue. It's all well and good to extend paper protection to pets, and long overdue (too bad they can't dial 911 themselves), but unless there's a place to shelter them, as there is for the families who love them and fear for them, the protection is just paper.

And only more pieces of paper -- the legislation and the money to back it up -- can give this law ... well, there's no other way to say it: real teeth.