Representing Domestic Violence Survivors with Pets in Colorado

A Manual for Domestic Violence Attorneys & 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 Colorado. 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. The Animal Welfare Institute wishes to thank and acknowledge Hogan Lovells US LLP­—and in particular Sarah Cummings and Blair Warner—and Noel Franklin, JD, of Colorado, for their contributions to the drafting of this manual. Edited by Dave Tilford, AWI.

Advocates and attorneys play a crucial role in ensuring that individuals seeking protection orders (petitioners) understand and exercise their rights to include pets in protection orders. There are four crucial steps to this process:

  1. As early as possible, ask the petitioner 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 Colorado, the laws pertaining to domestic violence protection orders are codified in the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S. §§ 13-14-100.2 – 13-14-110).
  3. If there has been animal abuse or a threat of animal abuse, gather evidence of this to present at the hearing. (See “Gathering Evidence” below.)
  4. Help the petitioner understand what relief is available to protect the animal, and ensure that the petitioner’s requested relief is included in any temporary or extended order.

Ask About Pets

The first step is to ask, during the initial conversation, about the presence of pets or other animals 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 sample questions to ask:

  • 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

Reassure the petitioner that you will work with them to develop a safety plan for the petitioner, their family, and their pet. Does the petitioner 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 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, while some house only the pets on site. 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 pets and family members.

Refer the petitioner 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 petitioner 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 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 petitioner 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.

Colorado Domestic Abuse Protection Order Laws

In Colorado, a court may issue a protection order to prevent domestic abuse, abuse of the elderly or at-risk adults, sexual assault or abuse, other assaults and threatened bodily harm, and stalking. Colorado is among a growing number of states that expressly provides for the protection of pets in protection orders. Colorado is also among the handful of states that include animal abuse within the statutory definition of “domestic abuse” (as well as the definition of “abuse of the elderly or at-risk adults”). Under Colorado law, animal abuse that is intended to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or exact revenge on the person abused is considered domestic abuse and will itself serve as legal justification for a protection order.2

How to obtain a civil protection order

Instructions on how to obtain a protection order are available online from the Colorado Courts website:

The first step is to fill out the necessary forms. Two required forms are the Verified Complaint/Motion for Civil Protection Order and the Information Sheet for Registering a Protection Order. If the petitioner intends to include children in the protection order, an Affidavit Regarding Children must also be completed. Another optional form is the Incident Checklist, which allows the petitioner to chronicle past incidents of abuse in preparation for the hearing, and which can be entered into the record at the hearing if the petitioner so chooses. These forms can be downloaded from the Colorado Courts website:

The petitioner takes the completed forms to the county court to be filed. (Forms are also available at the courthouse.) Typically, on the day the forms are filed, a hearing for a temporary protection order (TPO) will be held before a judge. (For situations in which the court is closed and a law enforcement officer determines that the abused party is in immediate danger, see “Emergency Protection Orders” below.)

The TPO hearing will be “ex parte”--without the alleged abuser (respondent) present. If a TPO is granted, it goes into effect when the respondent is served (see the instructions in Form JDF 400 linked to above for information on service of process) and remains in effect until a full hearing can be held—generally within 14 days—with both petitioner and respondent allowed to attend and present evidence. At the full hearing, the judge will determine whether a permanent protection order (PPO) will be issued. A PPO in Colorado does not have an expiration date. Violation of any protection order constitutes a criminal offense, and subjects the respondent to punishment as provided by law.

Including pets on the protection order

Indicating past abuse

As indicated above, animal abuse that is intended to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or exact revenge on the person abused is recognized legally as abuse of that person in domestic and elderly or at-risk adult situations. On the forms linked to above, there are two places to chronicle past animal abuse:

  1. On the Verified Complaint/Motion for Civil Protection Order (Form JDF 402), the petitioner is asked in item 4 to indicate (a) most recent, (b) most serious, and (c) other past incidents in which the respondent threatened or harmed the petitioner. Include incidents of animal abuse under this item.
  2. On the optional Incident Checklist (Form JDF 401), there is a space to record the date and location of any “Threat by Cruelty to Animals.”

Protecting pets on the protection order

Request protection for pets in item 7(f) of the Verified Complaint/Motion for Civil Protection Order (Form JDF 402). Check the box next to 7(f) to request that the respondent “be ordered to refrain from molesting, injuring, taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, or disposing of or threatening harm to an animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by me or my minor child(ren), or other protected persons” and indicate arrangements for possession and care of the animal(s) in the blank space provided.

Emergency protection orders

The steps above outline procedures a petitioner should follow when the courts are open. Local law enforcement officers can also obtain an emergency protection order (EPO) on behalf of endangered individuals when the courts are closed (or when a TPO hearing cannot be held on the day it was filed) and the official determines that the abused party is in immediate danger. EPOs generally last until the courts reopen and a TPO hearing can be held. In EPO situations, the officer contacts the judge directly. No forms are filled out by the abused party. It is important to note that in an EPO, as in other protective orders, pets can be protected. In the order issued by the court (Form JDF 393 or JDF 394), there is a space (item 2) for the judge to stipulate that the alleged abuser “[s]hall not molest, injure, kill, take, transfer, encumber, conceal, dispose of, or threaten harm to an animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by any other party, a minor child of any other party, or an elderly or at-risk adult.” The judge may also include information under item 5 concerning what arrangements have been made for possession and care of an animal.

Gathering Evidence for the Hearing

Fact-Gathering Questions to Ask the Petitioner

Before completing the petition, an attorney or advocate should ask the petitioner the questions listed in the section titled “Ask About Pets” above. 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 petitioner’s animal or the respondent’s own animal, ask the petitioner 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 petitioner 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 petitioner record photo evidence.

In addition to the fine details, be sure to capture the bigger picture of abuse. Have the petitioner describe the series of events that led up to the incident of abuse as well as any past instances of conflict. What does the petitioner believe motivated the abuse? How did the petitioner 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 petitioner from leaving the home or going somewhere?

Remember, it is extremely important that the court understands how the animal abuse fits into the 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 petitioner 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

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 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 Code3—which pertaining 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,4 or horse of that person.”5

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,6 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.”7

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. Victims and advocates also may wish to contact their 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

Colorado Official Forms and Government-Sponsored Resources

Colorado Organizations

National Organizations

Further Reading

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

2. The relevant statutory language is in C.R.S. § 13-14-101. See § 13-14-101(2) for domestic abuse. See § 13-14-101(1)(f) for abuse of the elderly or at-risk adult.

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

5. 18 U.S. Code § 2262(a) (emphasis added)

6. “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

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