Representing Domestic Violence Survivors with Pets in Ohio

A Manual for Domestic Violence Attorneys and Advocates Helping Survivors Obtain Protection Orders

This manual is intended to serve as an educational tool 1 for attorneys and advocates working with pet-owning domestic violence survivors in Ohio. We hope that this step-by-step approach simplifies the inclusion of pets in protection orders, allowing survivors to take control of their lives and escape abuse along with their pets. AWI would like to thank Anne Derrig, a law student at the University of Texas, for her invaluable assistance in researching and writing this manual.

Advocates and attorneys play a crucial role in ensuring applicants understand and exercise their rights to include their pets in protection orders. There are four crucial steps to this process:

  1. As early as possible, ask the applicant about any pets, service animals, therapy animals, or any other animals who may live in the home.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the state’s protection order laws. In Ohio, the laws pertaining to protection orders against all family offenses are found in R.C. § 3113.
  3. If there has been animal abuse or a threat of animal abuse, gather evidence of this to present at the hearing.
  4. Assist the applicant in understanding what relief is available to protect the animal, and ensure the applicant’s requested relief is included in any temporary or extended order.

Ask About Pets

The first step is to ask about the presence of pets or other animals in the home during the initial conversation.

Sample Questions:

  • Does an animal—a pet, service animal, or support animal—live in your home?
  • Has your abuser ever harmed your pet or threatened to harm your pet?
  • Where is your pet right now?
  • Is your pet safe?
  • Do you want to ask that the court grant you custody of your pet?
  • Do you want to ask that the court order your abuser to stay away from your pet?
  • Do you have anything that might help us prove that the abuser has threatened or hurt the animal, e.g., veterinary bills or records, photographs or eyewitnesses?

It is common for applicants with pets not to volunteer that they have a pet. They may assume there are no resources or protections for their pets and therefore believe it is pointless to raise the issue. In addition, under the stress of the circumstances they may forget to mention pet concerns. It is important to recognize the overall significance of asking about pets; being able to present information about how the abuser has treated animals can be a valuable tool to illustrate the extent of the abuser’s controlling and violent behavior.

Knowing whether a pet is involved may help not only the pet but also other abused parties. Many applicants may decide not to leave due to fear of leaving a pet behind, and addressing such concerns increases the likelihood that they will escape an abusive situation themselves.

Discuss Resources for Pets

Reassure the applicant that you will work with them to develop a safety plan for them, their family, and their pet. Does the individual intend to stay with friends or family members, but cannot take their pet? Are they moving into temporary housing or a domestic violence shelter that does not accept pets?

Explain that there are safe havens for pets of domestic violence victims in many communities. Safe havens are sheltering services available in an area that assist individuals experiencing domestic violence with placing their companion animals out of harm's way so that they may seek safety for themselves.

Safe havens operate differently from community to community. Some rely on networks of foster care homes or are allowed to use the additional kennel space of a local humane society or veterinarian. In some cases, domestic violence shelters house victims and pets together, while some house only the pets onsite. Depending on the local arrangement, family members may be able to visit their pets while they are in safekeeping. Confidentiality of the pet’s location is highly guarded in order to protect the pets and their family members.

Refer the applicant to the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens Mapping Project. This is a directory, searchable by zip code, of sheltering services for domestic violence victims and their pets. About 12 percent of safe havens nationwide offer co-housing so that pets can stay with the human victims. Those that offer this are noted in the directory.

Advise the applicant to do the following:

  • Keep on hand the phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic
  • Establish ownership of the pet by creating a paper trail (e.g., obtain a license, have veterinarian records put in the applicant’s name)
  • Keep emergency provisions for the pet. Pack a bag for the pet that includes the following:
    • food
    • medicine
    • documents of ownership (receipts from adoption or purchase of pet, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
    • health documents (veterinary or vaccination records)
    • leash
    • ID and rabies tag, if a dog or cat (these will also help establish ownership)
    • carrier
    • toys
    • bedding

Finally, in some circumstances where the animal and client are separated, such as one involving a visit to the emergency room, the advocate or attorney may need to ensure that the animal is safe. Following a domestic violence call, the animal may be taken into custody by animal control and need to be claimed and transferred to safety later.


Ohio Domestic Abuse Protection Order Laws

Under R.C. § 3113.31(A)(1), a petition for protection must allege that the respondent committed one of the following offenses against his or her spouse, former spouse, parent, child, or other member of the same family or household:

  1. Attempting to cause or recklessly causing bodily injury
  2. Placing another person in fear of imminent serious physical harm
  3. Committing child abuse
  4. Committing a sexually oriented offense

In addition to alleging one of the above acts, the petition must do the following:

  1. State the allegation of domestic violence, including a description of the nature and extent of the violence
  2. State the relationship of the respondent to the petitioner (and to the victim, if the victim is not the petitioner)
  3. Request relief from the court

R.C. § 3113.31(C).

Not all Ohio forms contain the word “pet.” See “Determining Relief” (below), which identifies the forms that do mention pets, and how to proceed if they do not. In the links below, yes indicates that pets are included on this form; no indicates they are not.

FORM 10.01-H: Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (CPO) Ex Parte (yes)
FORM 10.01-I: Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (CPO) Full Hearing (yes)
FORM 10.01-D: Petition for Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (no)

Stay Away and/or Pet Custody Provisions

These types of provisions authorize a court to order the respondent to stay away from the pet and/or allow the applicant to request custody of the pet as part of a domestic violence protection order, which may have been requested on grounds other than injury to the animal. Ohio offers this type of relief to petitioners and the order may be used to protect any animals kept for companionship.

As part of the requested relief, an order of protection may require the respondent to not “remove, damage, hide, harm, or dispose of any companion animal owned or possessed by the Petitioner.” R.C. § 3113.31(E)(1)(i). In Ohio, a companion animal means a dog, a cat, or “any animal that is kept inside a residential dwelling.” The definition does not include livestock or wild animals. R.C. § 959.131(A)(1).

Obtaining Relief

Regardless of the grounds for requesting the domestic violence protection order, the petitioner may request that the relief include an order for the respondent to refrain from harming an animal kept by the petitioner or any other member of the petitioner’s household. R.C. § 3113.31(E)(1)(i).

In an emergency, contact the police. If a criminal charge is filed against the defendant on the victim’s behalf, the municipal (criminal) court can issue a domestic violence temporary protection order or a criminal protection order to protect the victim. To obtain a civil protection order—which civilians may obtain without police involvement—visit a domestic relations court. The court will provide the necessary forms, including Form 10.01-H: Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (CPO) Ex parte (for an emergency hearing) or 10.01-D, Petition for Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order. There are no filing fees.

When completing the petition, be sure to include specifics on the type of conduct that has occurred, including any threats. It is essential to include as many specific details as possible, including any supporting documents, evidence, and the names of witnesses. See Gathering Evidence for the Hearing below.

An order may require the respondent (and, in some cases, the petitioner) to do the following:

  1. Refrain from harming, attempting to harm, threatening, following, stalking, harassing, forcing sexual relations, or committing sexually oriented offenses
  2. Leave the petitioner’s residence and not return to or interfere with that residence
  3. Refrain from removing, damaging, hiding, or disposing of any property or funds possessed or owned by the petitioner
  4. Allow parental rights and responsibilities to be allocated at the court’s discretion
  5. Provide financial support for petitioner and other members of petitioner’s household
  6. Complete batterer counseling, substance abuse counseling, or another form of counseling
  7. Avoid entering, approaching, or contacting residences, schools, businesses, and places of employment of petitioner and household members
  8. Allow petitioner to have exclusive use of a shared motor vehicle

R.C. § 3113.31; see also Form 10.01-D: Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (CPO)

  1. Refrain from harming an animal kept by the petitioner or any other member of the petitioner’s household. R.C. § 3113.31(E)(1)(i).

Temporary Orders

A court may for good cause issue an ex parte order (and temporary child support, if necessary). R.C. § 3113.31(D). An ex parte order is issued on the day the petition is filed and lasts only until the court date. Typically, courts will extend the order from court date to court date until the case ends or a final order is granted.

Final Orders

A final order may be issued at a case’s final disposition. R.C. § 3113.31(D). A final order may stand for as long as five years. R.C. § 3113.31(E)(3).


Gathering Evidence for the Hearing

Fact-Gathering Questions to Ask the Petitioner

Before completing the petition, an attorney or advocate should ask these questions of the applicant to gather information about the extent of animal abuse:

  • Did the respondent threaten to harm your pet (or another animal in the home)?
  • Did the respondent actually physically harm your pet?
  • How did the animal abuse or threat affect you?

The answers to these questions will help the evidence-gathering process for the hearing and offer the court a more comprehensive scope of the circumstances.

If the respondent has threatened to harm either the applicant’s animal or the respondent’s own animal, ask the applicant what the respondent specifically said. The statement should be admissible under evidence rules as an admission by a party opponent. Ask where and when the statement occurred, and if someone else may have heard the threat (e.g., a neighbor, another occupant of the home, or someone else present). Have the applicant describe the circumstances, including the topic of conversation and body language.

If the respondent physically hurt the pet, gather as many details as possible. In particular, find out if the animal needed veterinary care. If so, collect any evidence of the visit and consider if a subpoena of the animal hospital is appropriate. Either way, find out if any photos were taken, and, if the abuse was recent, help the applicant record photo evidence.

In addition to the fine details, be sure to capture the bigger picture of abuse. Have the applicant describe the series of events that led up to the incident of abuse as well as any past instances of conflict. What does the applicant believe motivated the abuse? How did the applicant react to the abuse? How did the respondent act afterward? Did the abuse serve as an effective controlling behavior? For example, did the abuse prevent the applicant from leaving the home or going somewhere?

Remember, it is extremely important that the court understands how the animal abuse fits into abusive behavior generally. Because not everyone recognizes the value of pets, being able to demonstrate with evidence that the respondent used the pet as a means to control the client is crucial to convincing the court of the role animal abuse plays in domestic violence.

Evidentiary Issues

There are several common pieces of evidence that you may want to introduce:

  • Statements made by the respondent
  • Veterinary records
  • Photographs of injuries
  • Evidence of prior animal abuse
  • Prior convictions for animal abuse
  • Testimony of a police officer
  • Testimony of a veterinarian

Ohio family law requires that the petitioner demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that he or she is in need of the protection granted by a protection order. See Felton v. Felton, 79 Ohio St.3d 34 (1997).


Determining Relief

The request for relief as it pertains to an animal will vary depending on whether the petitioner requests an emergency ex parte hearing for immediate relief.

Form 10.01-H, used to request an ex parte hearing, does include an option for a specific mandate that respondent “not remove, damage, hide, or dispose of any property or pets owned or possessed by the protected persons.” Petitioner may check that box to include their pet in the protection order.

In contrast, Form 10.01-D, used to request a standard civil protection order, contains no mention of pets on the checklist of relief sought. However, the petitioner may request that the court command respondent to refrain from harming her animals under Item 4(j), the form’s catch-all provision for requesting relief.

Questions to Ask About Desired Relief

  • Do you want the respondent to be ordered to refrain from harming either your pet or another animal in the home?
  • Do you want the respondent to stay away from where the animal lives and regularly visits?
  • Do you want to ask for custody of the animal?

Forms and Resources

Ohio

National Organizations

Further reading

1. The information provided in this manual should not be considered legal advice.

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