Including Pets in Domestic Violence Protection Orders in Maine

Guidance for Advocates and Attorneys for Domestic Violence Survivors1

This guide is intended to serve as a resource2 to help advocates and attorneys get pets of domestic violence (DV) survivors included in domestic violence protection orders in Maine.3 We hope that this information will serve to simplify the process and help survivors take more control of their lives and escape abuse along with their pets.

Advocates and attorneys often play a crucial role in helping DV survivors understand and exercise their rights to include pets in such orders. There are typically four key steps in this process:

  1. As early as possible, identify any pets, service animals, therapy animals, or any other animals who may live in the home.
  2. Identify and review the state’s protection order laws. (See below.)
  3. Gather evidence of any animal abuse or threats of animal abuse to present at the hearing. (See “Gathering Evidence” below.)
  4. Help the DV survivor understand what relief is available to protect the animal, and use available opportunities to include the desired relief in any temporary or extended order.

Ask About Pets

The first step is to ask if any pets or other animals are present in the home. It is common for individuals experiencing domestic violence 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. The following are examples of questions to flesh this out:

  • 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 this animal?
  • How did the animal abuse or threat affect you?
  • 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 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 individuals experiencing domestic violence 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.

Discuss Resources for Pets

It is often helpful to reassure the DV survivor that you will work with them to develop a safety plan for them, their family, and their pet(s). 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 DV survivors in many communities. Safe havens are sheltering services available in an area that help individuals who are experiencing domestic violence place 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; others have pet kennels on site. Depending on the local arrangement, family members may be able to visit pets while they are in safekeeping. Confidentiality of the pet’s location is highly guarded in order to protect pets and family members.

Refer the DV survivor to the Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens for Pets directory. This is a directory, searchable by zip code, of sheltering services for pets of DV survivors.4 Recommend that the DV survivor also 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 petitioner’s name).
  • Keep emergency provisions for the pet. Pack a bag for the pet that includes these items:
    • 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 the DV survivor are separated, such as one involving a visit to the emergency room, the advocate or attorney may need to take steps 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.

Maine Domestic Abuse Protection Order Laws

Maine law provides that any adult who has been abused by a family or household member or dating partner may seek relief in the form of a protection from abuse order by filing a complaint with the court describing the claim of abuse.5 

The plaintiff may file the complaint in the district court of the division in which either the plaintiff or the alleged abuser (defendant) resides or, if the plaintiff left the residence to avoid abuse, the complaint can be filed in the division of either the plaintiff’s previous or new residence.6

Protection from Abuse Order – Complaint Form

To request a protection from abuse order in Maine, the plaintiff must complete and file the following forms:

  • PA-001: Complaint for Protection from Abuse
  • PA-005: Protection Order Service Information
  • PA-015 Affidavit for Confidential Address/Telephone Number -- keeps contact information private for safety reasons; this form is optional

A packet containing these forms and a comprehensive Guide to Protection from Abuse & Harassment Cases can be picked up at a local courthouse or downloaded from the Maine Judicial Branch website. The forms can be dropped off at the appropriate courthouse or filed via email. (The email version of the form includes a cover sheet and instructions for submitting the form via email.) The Maine Judicial Branch website also offers translated versions of the forms in a number of languages, although only the English language version of the forms can be submitted to the court.

Including Pets in the Complaint

The section of the Maine Revised Statutes that addresses domestic abuse does not mention harm to the plaintiff’s pets as one of the types of abuse that would warrant a protection order. In the complaint, however, the plaintiff can still include incidents of prior animal abuse or threats of abuse to animals in connection with the abuse to the plaintiff. Prior acts of animal cruelty could be relevant in showing how the defendant sought to frighten or control the plaintiff. Such acts would be described in item 12 of the complaint form, where the plaintiff is asked to describe why they are seeking protection from the defendant.

Once abuse to the plaintiff has been established, however, pets can be protected by the order. Among other relief, the court can order the defendant to “refrain from injuring or threatening to injure any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household”7 and “make an order concerning the care, custody or control of” any such animal.8

The specific provision on form PA-001 whereby the plaintiff can request protection of their pets is item (h) on page 7, under the bold heading, “Therefore, I ask the court to enter any necessary and appropriate orders and:

. . .

  1. allow the petitioner or a family member or household member of the petitioner acting on his/her behalf to retrieve a household pet. . .

The plaintiff should check the box next to (h) and name and describe the animals in the accompanying blank space.

Temporary Protection Order

If the plaintiff needs protection immediately at the time the complaint is filed, the plaintiff can ask the court to issue a temporary protection order by checking the box next to item 10 on the complaint. The court will then determine the plaintiff’s request for a temporary order as “expeditiously as practicable” in an ex parte proceeding, without notice to the defendant. The temporary order would remain in effect until a hearing can be conducted on a long-term final order.9

In addition to the relief specified in item (h) on page 7 of form PA-001, the court can also direct that the defendant not possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon for the duration of the temporary order if the complaint demonstrates that there is a “heightened risk of immediate abuse to the plaintiff” based on abuse that includes, among other conduct, “[k]illing or threatening to kill pets.”10

Final Protection Order

Within 21 days after the plaintiff files the complaint, the court must conduct a hearing on the request for a final protection order, during which both the plaintiff and defendant can present evidence regarding the plaintiff’s requested relief.11 A final protection order can last up to two years, which can then be extended upon motion by the plaintiff.12 Violation of a temporary or final protection order constitutes a criminal offense.13

Gathering Evidence for the Hearing

Fact-Gathering Questions

Answers to the questions listed in the above section titled “Ask About Pets” will not only aid in completing the petition, but will also help the evidence-gathering process for the hearing and offer the court a more comprehensive understanding of the circumstances. In preparation for the hearing, it may be particularly helpful to discuss the following with the DV survivor.

If the abuser has threatened to harm either the DV survivor’s animal or the abuser’s own animal, try to determine what the abuser specifically said. The statement should generally 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 survivor describe the circumstances, including the topic of conversation and body language.

If the abuser 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 to the animal hospital is appropriate. Either way, find out if any photos were taken and, if the abuse was recent, see if there is a way to obtain photographic evidence.

In addition to the fine details, be sure to capture the bigger picture of abuse. Have the survivor describe the series of events that led up to the incident of abuse as well as any past instances of conflict. What does the survivor believe motivated the abuse? How did they react to the abuse? How did the abuser act afterward? Did the abuse serve as an effective controlling behavior? For example, did the abuse prevent the survivor 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. Being able to demonstrate with evidence that the abuser used the pet as a means to control the survivor can be 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 abuser
  • Veterinary records
  • Photographs of injuries
  • Evidence of prior animal abuse
  • Prior convictions for animal abuse
  • Testimony of a police officer
  • Testimony of a veterinarian
  • Testimony of anyone who witnessed the abuse or immediate aftermath

Check the Maine Rules of Evidence to develop a response to possible objections to their admissibility.

Federal Domestic Violence Law: Paws Act

Although the process of obtaining a protection order is a civil matter, not a criminal one, violation of a protection order once it is in place is typically a crime under state law, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. In some circumstances, it will also be a crime under federal law. In 2018, the provisions of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act were signed into law as part of the federal farm bill. The PAWS Act added language to Title 18, Chapter 110A of the US Code14—which pertains to interstate domestic violence and interstate stalking—that heightens protection for animals in situations involving protection order violations and stalking.

Interstate violation of a protection order occurs when someone crosses state lines (or by force, coercion, duress, or fraud causes another person to cross state lines) with the intent to engage in conduct that violates or would violate a protection order’s prohibition “against violence, threats, or harassment against, contact or communication with, or physical proximity to, another person or the pet, service animal, emotional support animal,15 or horse of that person.”16

Interstate stalking occurs when someone engages in conduct intending to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person (or place that person under surveillance for such purposes), so that it either

  1. causes the person to have reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to themselves; their immediate family members, their spouse or intimate partner; or their pet, service animal, emotional support animal, or horse, or
  2. “causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress” to the person, their immediate family members, or their spouse or intimate partner,

AND such behavior occurs when the stalker is either

  1. traveling in interstate or foreign commerce,17 or
  2. using “mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce.”18

It is important to emphasize that the latter provision means that stalking conducted via mail or computers—whether or not physical travel is involved—constitutes interstate stalking because use of the US mail and the electronic devices themselves involves activities that venture beyond state lines.

Federal authorities, not local and state law enforcement officers, are tasked with prosecuting violations of federal law. However, the Department of Justice recommends reporting such crimes, especially in an emergency, to the local authorities. The local district attorney will refer appropriate cases to a US attorney’s office. DV survivors and advocates also may wish to contact a local US attorney’s office or the Federal Bureau of Investigation directly. Each US attorney’s office has an Office of Violence Against Women contact person to take referrals under the interstate stalking law. Click on the links below for office locations:

US attorney offices
FBI field offices

Forms and Resources

Maine Official Forms and Government-Sponsored Resources

Maine Organizations

National Organizations

Further Reading

1. AWI would like to thank Sarah Cummings and Blair Warner of Hogan Lovells US LLP and Noel Franklin, JD, for their assistance in compiling this information.

2. Nothing in this material should be considered legal advice. This guide is designed to facilitate access to available information and resources, and to identify issues and steps to consider in the course of seeking protection for pets of domestic violence survivors. While we try to keep the information up-to-date, we cannot assure that it remains accurate at the time a reader accesses it; please consult an official source for the most current language of any statute or other legal requirements. While we have provided links to third party websites that contain additional information, we cannot guarantee the availability or quality of services at those sites.

3. This guide does not attempt to describe procedures focused on protecting survivors themselves, their children or other human family members. There are numerous resources available to address issues specific to human survivors, including but not limited to Women’s Law and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

4. The directory reflects an effort to identify services that offer shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims. We cannot guarantee the availability or quality of services at any particular location.

5. 19-A M.R.S. § 4103(1). Note that Maine has two types of personal protection orders: a protection from abuse order and a protection from harassment order. This manual deals solely with protection from abuse orders.

6. 19-A M.R.S. § 4104(1)

7. 19-A M.R.S. § 4110(2)(E-1)

8. 19-A M.R.S. § 4110(2)(S)

9. 19-A M.R.S. § 4108(1)

10. 19-A M.R.S. § 4108(3)(B)(5-B). In the final order, the court may direct the defendant “not to possess a firearm, muzzle-loading firearm, bow, crossbow or other dangerous weapon for the duration of the order.” 19-A M.R.S. § 4110(1)

11. 19-A M.R.S. § 4109(1)

12. 19-A M.R.S. § 4110(5)(A)

13. 19-A M.R.S. § 4113

15. “pets,” “service animals,” and “emotional support animals” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2266 (11–13)

16. 18 U.S. Code § 2262(a) (emphasis added)

17. “or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country” 18 U.S.C. § 2261A