Amy FitzgeraldAmy Fitzgerald has been awarded a research fellowship at Harvard Law School to study policies and legislation pertaining to the treatment of pets in cases of relationship breakdowns and domestic abuse.

Criminologist off to Harvard to research laws about pets

A UWindsor criminologist is off to Harvard Law School to research how the courts are beginning to treat pets more like children than property in cases involving relationship breakdowns and domestic abuse.

Amy Fitzgerald, who with UWindsor’s Betty Barrett and Patti Fritz founded the Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group (AIRPARG), has been awarded a research fellowship at Harvard University. She will study policies and legislation in Canada and the United States related to animals, including court orders directing spouses and partners to make support payments for pets.

“They have been developed to help women leave abusive relationships,” Dr. Fitzgerald explained.

Past research by AIRPARG found 89 per cent of a sample of women in domestic violence shelters reported their abuser had also mistreated their pets. More than half of those women said they delayed leaving their abusers due to concern for their pets.

“We know that women will remain at risk and stay in abusive relationships if they can’t take their animals with them when they leave,” Fitzgerald said.

One of AIRPARG’S more recent research projects involved mapping women’s shelters that make accommodations for pets.

Fitzgerald, who will look after a Bernese Mountain Dog while in Boston with her family and will travel to the city with her 16-year-old cat, joined UWindsor’s faculty 13 years ago. She is currently on sabbatical and will be at Harvard from February to June. During her fellowship, she will write papers and present her findings at a public talk.

—Sarah Sacheli