Representing Domestic Violence Survivors with Pets in Wisconsin

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 Wisconsin. 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 Cooley, LLP and its team, 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 seeking a protection order (petitioner) understands and exercises their rights to include their 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 Wisconsin, the laws pertaining to domestic relationship personal protection orders (PPOs) are found in Wis. Stat § 813.12 and are summarized below.
  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 petitioner in understanding what relief is available to protect the animal, and ensure the petitioner’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 petitioners 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 petitioners 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 petitioner 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 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 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.

Wisconsin Domestic Abuse Restraining Order Laws

In order to satisfy the definition of “domestic abuse” in Wisconsin, a petitioner must show that the alleged abuser (respondent) (1) intentionally inflicted pain, injury, illness, or impairment of physical condition; committed sexual assault; stalked; damaged petitioner’s personal property; or threatened to do one of these acts and (2) is a family or household member, caregiver, former spouse, or dating partner of the petitioner or is someone with whom the petitioner has a child in common. Both petitioner and respondent must be 18 or older.2

If these conditions are met, obtaining a domestic abuse restraining order in Wisconsin3 involves a two-step process. The first step is the filing of a petition in court for a temporary restraining order (TRO). The court will issue a TRO if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent engaged in domestic abuse of the petitioner or may engage in domestic abuse of the petitioner.4 The court is not required to give the respondent notice prior to making its decision on the TRO petition.5

The second step is a hearing on a long-term protection order, referred to in Wisconsin as an injunction. Before the court can conduct a hearing on the injunction, the petitioner must serve the respondent with a copy or a summary of the petition, along with a notice of the hearing date.6 This can be accomplished by serving the respondent with copies of forms CV-402 (the petition) and the final, approved CV-403 (the actual TRO and notice of hearing), discussed below.

This hearing typically must occur within 14 after the court grants the TRO.7 At the injunction hearing, both the petitioner and the respondent will be allowed to present evidence, and the court will apply the same “reasonable grounds” standard used when deciding whether to issue the TRO. If granted, the injunction can last up to four years unless the court finds that there is a substantial risk that the respondent might sexually assault or commit homicide against the petitioner, in which case the court can then extend the injunction for up to 10 years.8

TRO Form

To request a domestic abuse TRO in Wisconsin, the petitioner must complete and file the following form:

  • CV-402: Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Petition and Motion for Injunction Hearing

The form can be dropped off at the local courthouse or filed electronically. An alternative option for completing the CV-402 petition form is to use the self-help forms assistant. This interactive form works much like popular do-it-yourself tax software in that it will generate a completed, ready-to-print form based on a series of questions the petitioner answers online. If a TRO petition is delivered directly to the courthouse, the petitioner will be asked to wait while a judge or circuit court commissioner renders a decision on it.

Including Pets on the TRO Form

Description of past abuse

Although in Wisconsin animal abuse alone would not be a basis for issuance of a TRO (except in the sense that a court may consider it “damage to property”), such actions can demonstrate how the respondent sought to frighten or control the petitioner. Item 4 on page 1 of the form asks the petitioner to describe the abuse to the petitioner that prompted the TRO request. In the accompanying fact sheet,9 the petitioner should describe the animal abuse and how it contributed to the abuse of the petitioner.

Request for protection

Wisconsin law specifically provides for protection of household pets in protection orders.10 “‘Household pet’ means a domestic animal that is not a farm animal . . . that is kept, owned, or cared for by the petitioner or by a family member or a household member of the petitioner.”11

On page 2 of the form, under the heading “I REQUEST THE COURT TO:” are a series of numbered and lettered boxes to check. Items 1(d),(e) and 2(d),(e) pertain to protection of pets within the TRO:

  1. Issue a Temporary Restraining Order requiring the respondent to . . .
    1. refrain from removing, hiding, damaging, harming, or mistreating, or disposing of, a household pet.
    2. allow the petitioner or a family member or household member of the petitioner acting on his/her behalf to retrieve a household pet. . . .
  2. Set a time for a hearing on the Petition for an Injunction requiring the respondent to . . .
    1. refrain from removing, hiding, damaging, harming, or mistreating, or disposing of, a household pet.
    2. allow the petitioner or a family member or household member of the petitioner acting on his/her behalf to retrieve a household pet.

The petitioner should check the boxes next to 1(d) and 2(d), as well as 1(e) and 2(e) if the animal is in the respondent’s possession.

Additional Forms

In addition to the TRO petition form, the petitioner may need to complete and file the following forms:

  • CV-403: Temporary Restraining Order (Temporary Order of Protection) and Notice of Injunction Hearing (This is the form the court uses to issue the TRO itself. The petitioner completes only the top portion of 1st page.)
  • CV-404: Injunction — Domestic Abuse (The petitioner completes only the top portion of 1st page.)
  • CV-420: Respondent’s Information for Service by Sheriff
  • CV-502: Confidential Address Information
  • CV-801: Petitioner's Statement of Respondent's Possession of Firearms (This form is optional.12)
  • CV-446: Notice and Order for Injunction Hearing When Temporary Restraining Order is Not Issued — Domestic Abuse (This form is necessary only if the TRO is denied but the petitioner still wishes to proceed to a full hearing.)

All these forms can be accessed from the links above or from the Wisconsin Courts domestic abuse forms page, which includes Spanish and Hmong language versions of some forms.

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 animal 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. Not everyone recognizes the value of pets, so 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

Check Wisconsin’s evidence rules 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 Code13—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,14 or horse of that person.”15

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,16 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.”17

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

Wisconsin Official Forms and Government-Sponsored Resources

  • Wisconsin Courts Domestic Abuse TRO and Injunction forms (All forms—including some Spanish and Hmong language versions—can be accessed from this page. Links to specific forms in English are also listed below.)
    • CV-402: Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Petition and Motion for Injunction Hearing
    • CV-403: Temporary Restraining Order (Temporary Order of Protection) and Notice of Injunction Hearing
    • CV-404: Injunction — Domestic Abuse
    • CV-420: Respondent’s Information for Service by Sheriff
    • CV-502: Confidential Address Information
    • CV-801: Petitioner's Statement of Respondent's Possession of Firearms
    • CV-446: Notice and Order for Injunction Hearing When Temporary Restraining Order is Not Issued — Domestic Abuse
  • Self-help forms assistant (generates completed CV-402, CV-420, and CV-502 forms based on answers to questions)
  • eFiling instructions (if choose to eFile rather than take forms to courthouse—requires establishing an account)

Wisconsin Organizations

National Organizations

Further Reading

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

2. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(1)(am)

3. Wisconsin also has separate legislation for obtaining “individuals at risk” and “harassment” restraining orders. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.123 and 813.125. However, this manual only addresses the law and procedures related to domestic abuse restraining orders.

4. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3)(a)(2)

5. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3)(b)

6. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12(2)(a) and (4)(a)(2)

7. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3)(c)

8. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12(4)(c)(1) and (4)(d)(1)

9. On CV-402, there is a small space on the form and a “See attached” checkbox. Some counties may supply a special fact sheet form for this additional information. (See, e.g., Dane County’s TRO Fact Sheet form.)

10. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(3),(4)

11. Wis. Stat. § 813.12(1)(ce)

12. A person under a domestic abuse injunction in Wisconsin is required to surrender all firearms. Wis. Stat. § 813.1285. See also

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

15. 18 U.S. Code § 2262(a) (emphasis added)

16. “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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