Domestic Violence and the Family Pet

Puppy blocking its ears and looking up

Recently, Governor Walker signed into law 2015 Wisconsin Act 253, which allows court commissioners and judges presiding over restraining orders and injunctions to include protections for victims’ pets. This law allows the court to order abusers in domestic violence situations not to remove, hide, mistreat, or dispose of a family pet and also allows the court to order that a  victim, or an individual acting on behalf of the victim, be able to retrieve a pet. This legislation can help further protect victims, families, and pets to break free from the cycle of violence and allow the protection of pet to be addressed in legal proceedings such as Temporary Restraining Orders and Domestic Abuse or Harassment Injunctions.

It was recently reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that abusers use a variety of tactics to control their victims, and a remarkably common way to control victims is to harm or threaten to harm their pets. According to American Humane Society statistics, “71% of pet owners who seek safety at domestic abuse shelters report that their batterer had threatened, injured, maimed or killed family pets as a form of revenge or psychological torture.” The article also notes that “abuse victims cite concerns about the safety of their pets as the reason they stay in an abusive relationship.”

In allowing for the provision regarding family pets in the Temporary Restraining Orders and Injunctions, the goal is protect the pets, as well as to further encourage victims to seek help. The article goes on to state, in situations where domestic violence extends to family pets, “the message is maybe not implicit but it’s clear: My control over you extends over this animal. If I’ve abused you and battered you to the point that that’s no longer controlling you, I’ll abuse the animal you care about.” Hopefully this will remove that power of control from the abuser.

This article can be found at

While most pet owners consider their pets to be like family members or children, it is important to note that the legal system treats pets like property, subject to equal division in a divorce case. Because of parties’ emotional ties to their pets, and the legal treatment of pets, it is difficult for Courts to resolve these matters. In a family law setting without the factor of domestic violence, this can often be addressed in mediation, where parties can work together to craft creative solutions regarding their pets. However, in matters involving domestic violence, where mediation is not appropriate, if a perpetrator is looking for a way of hurting the victim, using the family pet to do so has become increasingly common. If you are looking to protect your family pet in a domestic violence situation outlined above, or protect yourself without concern for your pet, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.