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 Maine. 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, for their contributions to the drafting of this manual. Edited by Dave Tilford, AWI.
Advocates and attorneys play a crucial role in ensuring that the individual (the “plaintiff”) seeking a protection from abuse order understands and exercises their rights to include their pets in protection orders. There are four crucial steps to this process:
- As early as possible, ask the plaintiff about any pets, service animals, therapy animals, or any other animals who may live in the home.
- Familiarize yourself with the state’s protection order laws. In Maine, the laws pertaining to domestic relationship personal protection orders (PPOs) are found in Title 19-A of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated.2
- If there has been animal abuse or a threat of animal abuse, gather evidence of this to present at the hearing (see “Gathering Evidence” section below).
- Help the plaintiff understand what relief is available to protect the animal and ensure that the plaintiff’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. It is common for plaintiffs 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.
- 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?
- 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 plaintiff 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 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 the pets and their family members.
Refer the plaintiff 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 plaintiff 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:
- documents of ownership (receipts from adoption or purchase of pet, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
- health documents (veterinary or vaccination records)
- ID and rabies tag, if a dog or cat (these will also help establish ownership)
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.
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.3 The specific acts of abuse that would qualify for a protection order are set forth in Section 4002 of Title 19-A of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated.4
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.5
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”6 and “make an order concerning the care, custody or control of” any such animal.7
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:
. . .
- 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.8
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.”9
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.10 A final protection order can last up to two years, which can then be extended upon motion by the plaintiff.11 Violation of a temporary or final protection order constitutes a criminal offense.12
Gathering Evidence for the Hearing
Fact-Gathering Questions to Ask the Plaintiff
The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the allegations of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence.13 Before completing the petition, an attorney or advocate should ask the petitioner the questions listed in the section “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 plaintiff’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 plaintiff 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 plaintiff describe the series of events that led up to the incident of abuse as well as any past instances of conflict. What does the plaintiff believe motivated the abuse? How did the plaintiff 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 plaintiff 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 plaintiff is crucial to convincing the court of the role animal abuse plays in domestic violence.
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
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 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 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,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
- 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
- “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
- traveling in interstate or foreign commerce,17 or
- 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. 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:
Forms and Resources
Maine Official Forms and Government-Sponsored Resources
- Maine Courts protection from abuse forms — Includes versions of the complaint form for both paper and email filing, as well as translated forms in a variety of languages
- The Animal Welfare Institute’s Safe Havens Mapping Project: a state-by-state, zip-code searchable listing of safe haven programs
- WomensLaw.org: Maine Protection from Abuse Orders
- Red Rover Safe Escape grants: helps families with pets safely escape domestic violence together
1. The information provided in this manual should not be considered legal advice.
2. 19-A M.R.S.A. §§ 4001–4014
3. 19-A M.R.S. § 4005(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.
4. 19-A M.R.S. § 4002
5. 19-A M.R.S. § 4003
6. 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(E-1)
7. 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(1)(N)
8. 19-A M.R.S. § 4006(2)
9. 19-A M.R.S. § 4006(2-A)(B)(5). 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. § 4007(1)(A-1)
10. 19-A M.R.S. § 4006(1)
11. 19-A M.R.S. § 4007(2)
12. 19-A M.R.S. § 4011(1)
13. 19-A M.R.S. § 4006(1)