When a spouse or partner finally decides to leave their abuser, that’s often when they’re most at risk of serious harm or death. That’s why protection from abuse (PFA) orders and other steps are crucial to helping them stay safe.
Currently, however, PFA orders aren’t available for pets, who often become the targets of abuse in these situations. Pennsylvania state lawmakers are taking steps to try to change this. In a rare show of bipartisan support, a bill unanimously passed in the House last year that would let judges give temporary ownership of all family pets to any person who seeks a PFA from a spouse or partner. Further, judges can add a requirement in the PFA that the alleged abuser not attempt to take or abuse any family pet.
Pets frequently become targets of abusers – and keep victims from leaving
One of the state representatives who introduced the bill said, “Frequently, when a protection from abuse order is issued, the animal becomes a target and … we have some absolutely horrific stories of this type of abuse.” Abusers will harm or threaten to harm an animal as a way to get back at their victim. They’ll often use them as a bargaining chip to keep their victim from leaving.
An official with the state’s Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says, “Victims of domestic abuse often delay leaving an abusive situation because they fear the abuser will harm their animals. By permitting the inclusion of pets within a protection order, [the bill] would make it easier for victims to leave a dangerous situation with their entire family, including their pets.”
The legislation is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Senate to be considered in the upcoming session. While it seems likely that it will eventually become law, it’s important to know what steps you can take in the meantime to protect everyone in your household – including the four-legged family members – from harm as you seek a PFA and take other measures. Having experienced legal guidance can help.