For the Love of Pets

I grew up in a family where pets were always present. My dad was known to just randomly show up at home with a new puppy.  At one point in my childhood, I think there were two dogs, two cats, two hamsters and a few fish living in our house.  I have continued to share my home with pets in my adulthood – with always at least one cat (ok, often two). I have had my pets photographed with Santa (it was for charity!). I am known to give birthday cards from my dogs. At least I don’t dress them up in costumes – well, not usually.

Many people – myself included – consider their pets to be much more than property and love those pets almost as much as they love their children. Pets can become non-judgmental friends, companions for long walks, and a shoulder to cry on during difficult times. As my colleague, Andrea Dunbar, wrote in her recent post, pets are considered property in the Probate and Family Court when it comes to who will keep a pet after a divorce.  But, where there is abuse, the Court can give a victim care and control over a pet.

By some reports, as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. As spouses and children sometimes become victims of abuse, so too do household pets.  It is said that in nearly 88% of households with pets in which domestic violence exists, the pets are also being abused.  Even in circumstances where the pet is not directly abused, threats to abuse, destroy or hide the pet will stop a victim of abuse from leaving.  According to the MSPCA, as many as 48% of victims of abuse delay leaving a violent situation due to concern for a pet.  Those of us who truly love animals understand how hard it might be to leave a pet behind.  Thankfully, Massachusetts law provides protection for pet lovers who have found themselves in abusive relationships.

Under General Law Chapter 209A (the law giving a person suffering from abuse from a family or household member the ability to seek protection), a victim of abuse is entitled to seek an order protecting a pet. The law provides that a court may give the victim “possession, care and control” of a “domesticated animal” that is owned by either party or a child living in the household.  In addition to giving the victim possession and control over the animal, the court can order the abuser to refrain from abusing, threatening or disposing of the animal. The form to accompany a request for protection from abuse to include a pet can be found here.

Knowing that a cherished pet need not be left behind may be what some victims need in order to summon the courage to seek protection. If you or a family member are a victim of abuse, help is available: