Representing Domestic Violence Survivors with Pets in Ohio

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 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. 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 Ohio, the laws pertaining to domestic violence protection orders are codified in R.C. § 3113.31.
  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.

Ohio Domestic Violence Protection Order Laws

The law pertaining to Ohio domestic violence civil protection orders (CPOs) are codified in R.C. § 3113.31. To obtain a CPO in Ohio, the individual seeking the order (the “petitioner,” as noted above) must first submit a petition to the court using Form 10.01-D (available for download from the Supreme Court of Ohio website) and bring it to the court. General information about CPOs is provided in Form 10.01-A. Specific information with respect to the process of completing and submitting the petition is provided in Form 10.01-C.

Once the petition is submitted, an “ex parte” hearing is held (one with the petitioner and representative present, but not the alleged abuser, who is referred to as the “respondent”), generally that same day. If the judge determines that temporary protection is merited, an “ex parte CPO” will be issued, the respondent will be served notice, and a full hearing will be scheduled (with petitioner and respondent present) for within 7 to 10 business days. If the judge determines that long-term protection is merited, a “full hearing CPO” will be issued. The full hearing CPO can last up to 5 years.

In Ohio, “domestic violence” is defined as “the occurrence of one or more of the following acts against a family or household member or a person with whom Respondent has a dating relationship: attempting to cause or recklessly causing bodily injury; placing another person by the threat of force in fear of imminent serious physical harm or committing menacing by stalking or aggravated trespass; committing any act with respect to a child that would result in the child being an abused child, as defined [by law]; or committing a sexually oriented offense.”2

Animals are not included under the statutory definition of “family or household member.” Nevertheless, under Ohio law, animal abuse can serve as evidence of the overall pattern of violence, and companion animals can be protected under a CPO issued to protect the petitioner and/or petitioner’s (human) family or household members. Specifically, a court can order the respondent to stay away from a companion animal and can award custody of such animal to the petitioner.3 “Companion animal” is defined as “any animal that is kept inside a residential dwelling and any dog or cat regardless of where it is kept”; it “does not include livestock or any wild animal.”4

There are several places on the petition form where petitioner can mention past pet abuse and request that pets be protected as part of the requested relief:

  • Item 6 (required) asks the petitioner to “explain why you believe you or your family or household members are in danger.” The petitioner should include incidents of past pet abuse that relate to this sense of danger in the space provided.
  • Item 7 (optional) lists specific behaviors/mental states that are relevant to the level of threat posed by the respondent. “Abuse of the family’s pet” is among the listed behaviors. Any pet abuse not already described under item 6 should be described here.
  • Item 9(i) is where the petitioner can ask the court to include a provision in the CPO that “grants Petitioner permission to take Petitioner’s companion animals or pets . . . away from the possession of Respondent.” Note that this is the only place on the petition form where petitioner can make a specific request concerning the disposition of a companion animal.5
  • Item 13 asks the petitioner to list court cases—including those involving animal cruelty—and other legal matters involving the respondent that may relate to the present case.

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 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

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.6

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 Code7—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,8 or horse of that person.”9

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,10 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.”11

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

Ohio Official Forms and Government-Sponsored Resources

Ohio Organizations

National Organizations

Further Reading

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


3. R.C. § 3113.31 (E)(1): “After an ex parte or full hearing, the court may grant any protection order . . . or approve any consent agreement to bring about a cessation of domestic violence . . . . The order or agreement may . . . (i) Require that the respondent not remove, damage, hide, harm, or dispose of any companion animal owned or possessed by the petitioner; [and] (j) Authorize the petitioner to remove a companion animal owned by the petitioner from the possession of the respondent.”

4. R.C. § 3113.31 (A)(7)

5. On the form filed by the court when it issues a CPO (Form 10.01-H for an ex parte CPO or Form 10.01-I for a full hearing CPO), there are two boxes the court can check. Box 10 (in both forms) states that “Respondent shall not remove, damage, hide, or dispose of any companion animals or pets owned or possessed by the protected persons named in this Order.” Box 11 (in both forms) states that “Petitioner is authorized to remove the following companion animals or pets owned by Petitioner from the possession of Respondent: __________ Exchange of the listed companion animals or pets shall take place as follows: __________.”

6. See Felton v. Felton, 79 Ohio St.3d 34 (1997).

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

9. 18 U.S. Code § 2262(a) (emphasis added)

10. “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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