Pet Protection

One of the aspects I love about my job is that I’m always learning new things. Some of the things are interesting facts, such as the 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey that reported that 65% of all American households have at least one pet. In fact, according to the American Humane Association, more households in the U.S. have a pet than have a child.

Unfortunately, some of the nuggets I learn are upsetting and disturbing. For example, the Animal Welfare Institute reported that a survey of domestic violence victims revealed that of those that own pets, 71% of them reported that their abusers had threatened, injured, or killed their pets. Over 50% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported the same thing.

As a result, victims of domestic violence will oftentimes refuse to leave violent relationships out of fear of what will happen to their pets. There are over 2,500 domestic violence shelters in the U.S., but only about 100 of them are pet friendly. The Battered Women’s Justice Project cited a study showing that 48% of surveyed women refused to leave an abusive situation because they had nowhere to take their pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, one in four domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet.

In 2005, the state of Maine created the Linkage Project, which was designed to study the correlation between animal cruelty and human violence. The project held a workshop and the participants, which included some judges, noted that they were confused about the legal ability to include pets in “protection from abuse” orders for battered spouses and families.

As the earlier statistics reflected, this lack of clarity allowed abusers to continue to use pets as pawns to control family members. Because of the efforts of the Linkage Project, Maine became the first state to pass legislation to allow pets to be included in protection orders.

Last month, Florida became the 35th state, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to allow for pets to be included in protection orders for victims of domestic violence.

The measure permits judges to include pets in restraining orders against domestic abusers and allows pets to remain with owners who are survivors of abuse. The law went into effect on July 1.

Jennifer Hobgood, senior director of state legislation for the ASPCA’s Southeast Region, released a statement saying, “Under normal circumstances, adults, children, and pets living in an abusive home often face major obstacles to escape harm’s way. Unfortunately, the necessity of staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has made this situation substantially more dangerous for both people and pets.”

Thankfully, Wisconsin is one of the 35 states that provides protections for pets in domestic violence situations. Under a law passed in 2016, judges or circuit court commissioners in Wisconsin can include pets under certain temporary restraining orders and injunctions. The law states that judges can order an abuser “to refrain from removing, hiding, damaging, harming, or mistreating, or disposing of, a household pet, to allow the petitioner or a family member or household member of the petitioner acting on his or her behalf to retrieve a household pet.”

So, if you are the victim of domestic violence, please get help. And if you are worried about your pet, please know that there are protections there for both of you.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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