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Pets Often Victims of Domestic Violence

Screen-Shot-2016-02-08-at-5.49.36-PM-dog-1000-ffccccccTransparent-3333-0.20.3-1.pngNo one should be subjected to a life of fear and abuse. One out of every four women experiences domestic violence at some point in her lifetime.[1] When there is any type of domestic violence in the home, everyone is at risk, including your family pet. Frequently, as a form of abuse, the abuser will target the family pet that provides love, comfort and normalcy to the victim. In the United States, more than 64 million households have pets.[2] Unfortunately, over one million pets become silent victims of domestic violence each year and are killed by abusers.[3]

In an effort to protect the beloved family pet, over two-thirds of domestic violence victims neglect to seek shelter for fear that their pet will be injured, mutilated, or killed if they leave. Most shelters do not allow victims to be accompanied by an animal. However, this trend is slowly beginning to change. Some shelters are now providing space for families and animals together.[4] In addition, other places are providing facilities for pets while domestic victims are in shelters. One such program is known as the Pet Haven Solution.[5]

You may be wondering if there is anything legally that you can do about domestic violence to you, a family member, or your pet. An important component for protecting victims of domestic violence is the restraining order or protection order. In Florida, you can include intentional injury or killing of a pet as a factor in your petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence. The threatened abuse of an animal can be used as an underlying offense to form the basis for issuance of a protection order. In order for a court to issue an order of protection you must be a person "who is either a victim of domestic violence ... or has a reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of any act of domestic violence." Fla. Stat §741.30(1)(a). "In determining whether a petitioner (the person who is requesting the injunction) has reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence, the court shall consider ... whether the respondent has intentionally injured or killed a family pet. Fla. Stat. § 741.30(6)(b)(4). If no injury has occurred to your pet, only to you or a family member, but you believe that the abuser would hurt your beloved pet if you were to leave, there is still something you can do. When filing for the injunction you should include your pet in the property section (pets are considered personal property in Florida) or "other relief" section of the protection order. Be sure that your request is included in any temporary or final order. If you have an attorney, be sure to let your attorney know that you have a pet and want the pet included in the injunction.

The process for an injunction begins by filing a petition with the court for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO), which is intended to protect the petitioner from immediate harm. The second step is a court hearing that occurs no later than fifteen (15) days after the TRO, where both the petitioner and respondent can present evidence as to whether the court should issue a permanent injunction. Your attorney can help you introduce evidence of abuse, such as statements made by the respondent, veterinary records, photographs of the injuries, evidence of animal abuse, and testimony of third parties. This process can quickly become complex, as it requires knowledge of the Florida Rules of Evidence.

At Cole Law Group, P.C. our attorneys understand the need to protect victims and their family members, including pets, from domestic violence. If you are in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence, please give us a call right away to find out how one of our experienced attorneys can help protect you and your pet.

Locate a Domestic Violence Shelter: Call 1-800-500-1119 for the nearest location of a domestic violence shelter.

Ashtin Henninger, an associate attorney in Cole Law Group's Tallahassee office, focuses on animal rights. In addition to being a loving owner of four dogs herself, Ashtin is a member of the national Animal Legal Defense Fund and works with the Florida Bar Animal Law Committee researching animal-related issues.

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