How Are Pets Affected by PFA Orders?

Posted by Joseph Lento | Jul 13, 2023 | 0 Comments

Domestic violence is a tragically common problem in Pennsylvania, with thousands of families affected daily. An abuse victim has the right to seek a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order for themselves and others in their household to shield them from their abuser's aggression–but does a PFA order's protection extend to pets?

As of this writing, Pennsylvania law does not cover pets in a PFA. However, there are still legal means of addressing the ownership, control, and care of a household pet when a PFA order is in effect. Here's what you need to know.

Pets and Restraining Orders

Pets are often cherished household members, sometimes as beloved as children. However, these animals can also be subject to violence at the hands of an abuser, used as emotional pawns to manipulate a victim, or otherwise become a vital part of a domestic dispute. At least one survey has shown that as many as 71 percent of domestic violence survivors who own pets report that their abusers had threatened, injured, or killed their pets. Some abuse victims refuse to leave their abuser, fearing what might happen to their pets.

For these reasons, thirty-seven states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have passed laws that automatically consider the welfare of pets in a protective order. Some states include abuse or threatened abuse of a pet as part of the offense that gives rise to the order. Other states have a "stay away and/or pet custody" clause that allows the court to expressly forbid the subject of a protective order from harming a household pet as part of the victim's request for relief.

No Automatic PFA Protection of Pets in Pennsylvania

Although Pennsylvania has strong laws prohibiting animal cruelty, no law automatically addresses the issue of pets in a protective order. Instead, Pennsylvania law considers pets as personal property in such circumstances. A person subject to a PFA order will have difficulty accessing their personal property, including pets, once the PFA order is in effect. Such orders forbid a defendant from entering the family home or approaching or contacting the petitioner and others covered by the PFA.

However, if a PFA petitioner wants more clarity on the issue, they can request a specific form of relief concerning the pet in the PFA request. The court will accordingly address issues of ownership, control, and care of the pet in the order. Defendants concerned about their pet's well-being may also raise the topic with the court.

Protection orders notwithstanding, if an abuser or anyone else harms your pet, contact the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA). The organization's Human Law Enforcement officers enforce animal cruelty laws throughout the state. Animal cruelty is a serious crime, a second-degree misdemeanor, that can result in up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Discuss Your Pet With an Experienced Pennsylvania PFA Lawyer

No matter whether you are a PFA petitioner or defendant, if you are concerned about the welfare and treatment of your pet while a protective order is in effect, speak to a Pennsylvania PFA lawyer as soon as possible. LLF Law Firm and our Family Law Team have helped many individuals find the best possible outcome in PFA cases. Call 888-535-3686 today for a consultation, or schedule one online.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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