Animal Law

Animals and the Law: Spotlight on Protection Orders

Note: Help for Abused and Battered Women, via
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local emergency service.
For domestic violence helplines and shelters, click here.
If you’re a man in an abusive relationship, read Help for Abused Men.

Photo by Serena Creative Commons

Photo by Serena / Creative Commons

In this post, I will be discussing orders of protection for companion animals and the relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Not every state provides protective orders for pets; because of this, I have written up a form letter that you can send to your lawmakers which details why the law in your state for orders of protection should be expanded to include pets. The letter, which you are free to modify and share, is posted at the end of the article. Not sure if your state already protects pets? Please refer here for an up-to-date list of states.

What is a protection order?

An order of protection (OP) is a court order that protects a person (or persons) from abuse or threats of abuse. For example, an OP can protect a mother and her child from her abusive husband. An OP will forbid an individual to engage in certain types of behavior. In situations of domestic violence, an OP can be issued which forbids an individual from behaviors such as, but not limited to, contacting, assaulting, threatening, or stalking a victim. If the OP is violated, then it is a crime.

Can pets be protected?

Yes and no – it depends on your state. As of this writing, 27 states (plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) have enacted legislation which helps protect pets. The language of each state’s legislation varies, but generally they are the same. In May of 2014, New Hampshire became the most recent state to include household pets in OPs. Under the newly expanded statute (N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 173-B:1, 173:B4, 173:B5) cruelty to animals (as defined under New Hampshire law) is included as “abuse”, and protective orders:

Grant the petitioner [Note: that’s the person asking for protection] exclusive care, custody, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by the petitioner, defendant, or a minor child in either household, and ordering the defendant to stay away from the animal and forbidding the defendant from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, committing an act of cruelty or neglect, or disposing of the animal.

Why should pets be protected?

Animal abuse is defined as:

“. . .socially unacceptable behaviour that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering or distress to and/or death of an animal. . .”

Research has shown that where there is animal abuse, there is often other forms of violence. In situations of domestic violence, it is not uncommon to see animals threatened, injured, maimed or killed by batterers. In fact, “a history of pet abuse is one of the four most significant indicators of who is at greatest risk of becoming a batterer.” (Walton-Moss et al., 2005.) Harming animals not only affects the animal him or herself, but also is a way of psychologically hurting the human victims. This is referred to as “triangling”, which is:

“[A] situation in which the perpetrator directs abuse towards someone (for example a treasured family pet) who is important to the victim, as an indirect way of inflicting pain on the victim (DeViney et al., 1983).”

It is undeniable: Animal abuse is a form of family violence. Pets can be used as pawns to gain and maintain control in the family. Committing acts of animal abuse is a way for batterers to normalize violence. Abusing animals can also be a form of punishment. Research has found that a shocking 71% of “battered women said their partners harmed, killed or threatened pets.” (Ascione, Weber & Wood, 1997.)  For children who witness animal cruelty, this can have profound and devastating psychological effects, including being at risk for antisocial behaviors and going on to commit acts of animal cruelty as adults.

It is common for abusers to threaten harm against any pets left behind if the victim fled the situation. For many victims, it may be difficult to find shelter that allows pets, and other barriers may exist such as the inability to pay for kennel boarding. If a shelter does allow pets, many dog breeds (particularly large breeds) are excluded. And because pets are generally considered family members — with women more often than not acting as primary caregivers — many victims do not want to surrender their pets to an animal shelter, especially if it is a kill shelter. Consequently, many women will remain in abusive situations out of concern for the safety of their pets. And perhaps unsurprisingly, a 2004 study by Carlisle-Frank et al. (2004) found that for women who left her abuser, concern for the safety of the pet was a reason they returned to the abusive relationship.

When a companion animal is being harmed, the victim is not “just a dog,” or “just a cat.” Animals can suffer, and their suffering should matter to us. Their victimization is a warning sign that something is terribly wrong, and that more than likely, the pet is not only one being harmed. Animal abuse is a sign that simply must not be ignored.

Having established that animal abuse and interpersonal violence co-exist, it is clear that this research must be taken seriously, and we must make changes in public policy. One simple act we can do is change our order of protection laws, which vary by state, to include pets. Removing animals from dangerous situations will not only reduce harm inflicted on the pet, but will also reduce physical and psychological harm on the human family members. Our goal should be preventing family violence, no matter its form.

Further Reading:

  • Pets as Pawns   (Domestic violence & animal abuse in New Zealand)
  • Pet Protective Orders (2008 article by Phil Arkow for American Bar Assn. Commission on Domestic Violence)
  • Understanding The Link  (National Link Coalition’s 16-page summary of research and multidisciplinary strategies)


  1. Ascione, F.R. & Weber, C.V. (1997). Children’s Observation and Experience with Pets (COEP). Logan, UT: Utah State University.
  2. Carlisle-Frank, P., Frank, J.M., & Neilsen, L. (2004). Selective battering of the family pet. Anthrozoos, 17 (1), 26-41.
  3. DeViney, E., Dickhert, J., & Lockwood, R. (1983). The care of pets within child abusing families. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4, 321-329.
  4. Walton-Moss, B.J., Manganello, J., Frye, U. & Campbell, J.C. (2005). Risk factors for interpersonal violence and associated injury among urban women. Journal of Community Health, 30(5), 377-389.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Creative Commons


Orders of Protection & Pets: Form Letter

Please feel free to modify, share, and send this to your lawmakers. Hopefully, every state will eventually include pets in protective orders.

Re: [orders of protection and companion animals]

Dear Senator [last name]:

I am writing to ask that you help make our companion animals safer by including them in orders of protection.

In situations of domestic violence, members of the family should be protected from the abuser. Currently, 27 states allow pets to be included in orders of protection. But in our state, current legislation only protects the humans who have a close relationship with the abuser. As a pet owner and animal advocate, I recognize that our companion animals are like members of our family. I am not alone: a 2011 poll found that 91% of pet owners consider their pets as family members. Therefore, pets should be included and protected as well.

Expanding protective orders to include our companion animals helps ensure the safety of our pets. I am well aware of the association between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. In 1997, a study performed in 50 domestic violence shelters revealed:

  • 85% of shelters reported women in the shelter talking about pet abuse;
  • 63% said children described incidents of pet abuse;
  • 71% of women seeking shelter who had animals stated that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their animal.

Research has shown that children who have been exposed to domestic violence are three times more likely to be cruel to animals than children living in nonviolent households. Therefore, protecting pets from abuse may likely reduce the incidence of animal cruelty in the future. Animals should be protected before abuse manifests or escalates, and this is the reason why our animal cruelty statute is simply not enough.

[recommended: a brief personal statement about your own policy concerns]

I appreciate your help and ask that you please send me a response letting me know if you are able to pass a Bill that would expand protection to our companion animals.

Thank you for your time and considering my request.




[Insert Your Name]




4 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s