In recognition of social and criminal justice data, state courts are enforcing protective orders that include animals.  23 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted laws that allow pets to be included in protective orders (AZ; AK; CA; CO; CT; HI; IL; LA; ME; MD; MA; MN; NV; NJ; NY; NC; OK; OR; TN; TX; VT; WA; WV).

 Victims of domestic violence often delay departure from abusive relationships to prevent animal abuse.  Offenders who commit domestic violence often threaten to harm or kill a family pet to prevent a victim from leaving, or punish one who has attempted to do so.  In 12 independent studies, between 18% to 48% of domestic violence victims reported delaying a decision to leave or return to a batterer, out of concern for the welfare of their pets.   As many as 71% of victims surveyed in women’s shelters reported that their batterer threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet.  Source:  The American Bar Association E-Newsletter, Animal Abuse Issue, Summer 2007 )

In light of the correlation between animal abuse and domestic partner violence, nearly half our state legislatures, courts, and law enforcement agencies have expanded and enforced protection orders to include animals endangered in abusive relationships.  These protections range from granting sole care, custody and control of an at-risk pet to physical “no-contact” orders to removal of the animal from an abusive environment. 

For the inclusion of pets in protective restraining orders to be truly effective,  petitioners seeking safety must have options for  their animals-temporary placement, foster care, adoption options, or pet-friendly domestic violence shelters.  Most shelters cannot accept animals due to health and safety regulations, potential liability, space constraints, and cost.

 In many communities, however, animal shelters, animal control agencies, veterinary clinics, and private boarding facilities have teamed up with domestic violence shelters to provide accommodations for victims’ pets.  The American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the United States offer national directories of “safe havens” where endangered animals in abusive environments can be placed temporarily or long-term.  Many programs at the state and local level are being established as well-not only to offer temporary pet shelter, but to provide cross-reporting and cross-training to legal professionals, victim advocates, and animal welfare organizations. 

Much more needs to be done, however.  Only 23 of our states currently have protection order laws that include potential animal victims in domestic violence situations.  More awareness of the animal abuse/domestic violence connection must be raised to promote safety for all vulnerable members of an abusive household. For information on restraining and protective orders in your jurisdiction, select the Self Help and Legal Research category for your state and county on CourtReference.



  1. Davis

    This is great legislation. As pets have become as important to us as family members, this can definitely make it easier for women to get out of abusive relationships. I only hope that Florida joins the crusade and adopts similar law.


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